'This picture is breathtaking: not because it shows great definition, but because the moment I saw it I instantly thought it had to be Marie–Antoinette [Thomas, wife of Samuel Thomas junior, Lionel Britton's maternal grandparents, with whom he and his siblings lived in Redditch for several years].
'I feel sure I have seen it before and simply had no idea who the people were, just Keebah [Bob, né Percy, Britton, Lionel's brother] when a young man, and some unknowns. Now after all this research it just leapt off the print at me. Just to make sure, I've been comparing it with other Marie pictures. Oddly enough, although it is a fairly convincing match with them, the real match is with my mother, of whom this picture reminds me. [...]. None of [my cousins] had ever been taken to see Irza [Britton, Lionel's mother] at all, and none had ever met Uncle Lionel, although Nicky knew all about his boat moored near Chertsey. (Nicky has always been a boating nut and they are just across the river from there to this day).
'Reading this image, I see one total certainty: Keebah in the middle. What would his age have been then? We think of guys with 'taches as fairly old, just as we would if we see them smoking a pipe, but I think in those days just about everyone had a 'tache unless they were male under twelve or female...maybe. As for pipes, I always remember my mother telling me Marie smoked one.
'The girl at top right could have been my Granny Maisie, but in that case I would tend to put the photo before the First World War.
'There is a bottle of champagne prominently displayed in the foreground. Let us suppose that Bob and Maisie were celebrating their engagement: wouldn't they be more centre stage?
'They went to Belgium by air at a time when this was a huge adventure, but I don't remember what the event was. Possibly it was a birthday for Marie, but it could also have been a wedding or something else. If this was Marie's 80th, she looks spry compared with the picture she sent out to her children and grandchildren: that image of which we have examples from at least three independent sources.
'Marie and Samuel Thomas do not appear on the 1911 census, and their house at 6 Hewell Rd [Redditch] is sold or rented out. Samuel dies the following year in Erquelinnes [in Belgium, where Samuel lived with Marie–Antoinette]. We have no real reason to suppose that Marie ever returned to England, so my best guess about this picture is that it was taken in Belgium. In that event I think we can rule out that it was taken any time between 1914 and 1918, because wasn't Belgium occupied by the Germans? What if this was Marie's 70th in about 1913, and Bob was 24? Alternatively, it could be the 80th and he was 34; or there is some other explanation.
'But I can't believe this is anybody other than Great-great-grandmother Marie-Antoinette.'