Old Photographs - Cambridgeshire Photographers
ST NEOTS PHOTOGRAPHERS by David Bushby
We are most grateful to David Bushby for permitting the use of this material, which first appeared in three parts in the magazine of the St Neots Local History Society.
Photography developed steadily during the nineteenth century and, although its growth in England was slower than in some European countries, it became increasingly popular in the second half of the century. The first opportunity, it would seem, for St Neots people to have their photographs taken was in December 1854, when Mr R Spring, who described himself as a ‘Photographic Artist’ from Peterborough, visited the town.
Richard Spring’s visit to St Neots occurred in December 1854 / January 1855. His initial intention was to spend nine days in the town, offering ‘30 second portraits with frame from 5 shillings’. He was prepared to visit people in their own homes and potential customers could examine specimens of his work at Tophams in the High Street or at the Three Tuns public house. [note 1] He described his portraits as being on glass and claimed that ‘they never fade or change their colour, and can be seen in any direction, having no metallic lustre’.
There must have been plenty of customers as the nine days kept being extended. On 4th January it was ‘owing to the pressure of business’ he would stay in the town a few days longer. On 11th January he expressed his ‘sincere thanks for the many favours conferred on him and has much pleasure in announcing that it is his intention to prolong his stay in St Neots.’ He finally left the town for Kimbolton at the close of business on Saturday, 20th January.
As well as photography he had a second occupation, and each of his advertisements had at the bottom that he repaired accordions and concertinas.
SPRIGG(E), Henry [note 2]
St Neots’ first ‘home-grown’ photographer was Henry Sprigg. His father, Samuel, was a chemist and was in business in St Neots by the 1830s if not earlier. Henry was born in the town and baptised at the parish church on 29th August 1837. He trained as a dentist and by the late 1850s was advertising himself as a surgeon dentist and was visiting Biggleswade, Potton and Kimbolton as well conducting his regular surgery in St Neots. He inherited the chemist’s business [note 3] on the death of his father in October 1859 and thereafter described himself as a dentist and chemist; but seldom as a photographer despite his proficiency in the art.
PHOTOGRAPHIC SCIENCE – Some beautifully executed photographic portraits, by Mr H Sprigg, of St Neots, have recently been submitted to us; and we confess that, on inspecting them, we were scarcely prepared for the fact of one of our own townsmen exhibiting so great a proficiency in this valuable art. The collodian, a new process on paper, seem to be exclusively adopted by Mr Sprigg, and with the most successful results. The facility with which he produces copies of his photographs, is certainly surprising, and if only as an interesting scientific novelty, should, by all means, be witnessed. The lovers of art and science, and all who are desirous of cherishing the sweet memories suggested in after years, by a portrait, cannot do better than pay a visit to Mr Sprigg’s new and ingeniously constructed portrait room.
Not surprisingly the next week’s issue contained the following advertisement:
Other reports of his photographic works followed intermittently over the next ten years. Later in 1856 [note 4] he had been out and about photographing topographical scenes.
There was a further report [note 5] some seven years later, which showed his readiness to experiment with new, improved techniques.
PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITS FOR ALBUMS – Mr H Sprigg, of this town, has submitted for our inspection some superb specimens of carte de visite portraits, taken by his newly-invented process, and for clearness and beauty of definition they decidedly surpass any we have ever yet seen. We understand that it is the intention of Mr Sprigg to obtain a patent for this process.
A further report in May 1864 informed people of other topographical photographs that Sprigg had taken.
PHOTOGRAPHY – During the past week we have been favoured with an inspection of some skilfully executed views of St Neots Church, photographed by Mr H Sprigge, of this town. The fine old building – of which the St Neotians may well be proud – is taken from two positions, one being a view of the tower, while the other is taken from the gardens of Messrs Wood and Ingram, and embraces the new east window, which has been so recently put in. The views, although small – being only carte de visite size – are beautifully clear, and speak well for the artistic abilities of Mr Sprigge as a photographer.
In June 1873 Henry Sprigg sold the chemist’s business to J G Mellor, but this was not to enable him to take up photography fulltime, rather to pursue his preferred occupation – that of dentistry. Sadly, this was short-lived as he died on 26th November 1873 at the early age of 38.
Another local man who advertised as a photographer in the 1860s was William Jackson, son of Thomas, a carpenter. He had moved to Eynesbury and then to New Street, St Neots. William was born in Eynesbury and baptised at the parish church on 3rd December 1837.
The items below, from the Norris Museum Library, seem to be among the few remnants of what appears to have been William’s short-lived photographic career. It was due to him, however that we have our earliest photographic record of St Neots.
On Tuesday, 10th March 1863 Edward, Prince of Wales, married Princess Alexandra of Denmark and, in keeping with the rest of the country, St Neots celebrated the occasion in some style, and the lavish decorations were captured by William Jackson. The St Neots Chronicle [note 6] reported:
STEREOSCOPIC VIEWS, - We have been privileged with an inspection of a series of stereoscopic views of the decorations around the Market Square on Tuesday last, taken by Mr William Jackson. They are most faithful representations of a scene long to be remembered, and when published will no doubt be eagerly sought after by those who wish to possess a fitting souvenir of St Neots on March 10, 1863.
The next week the paper contained the following advertisement:
There is no indication as to how many sets were sold but fortunately Dr Joseph Rix who, in addition to being a respected doctor, was also a well-known antiquarian and historian, preserved a copy for posterity. They are to be found in a three-volume edition of Gorham’s history (1820/24) along with copious notes by Dr Rix [note 7], which can be viewed at the Huntingdon Archive Centre in Huntingdon Library.
It would seem that William Jackson soon turned to career options that offered more lucrative opportunities. The advertisement below from the St Neots Chronicle shows the range of services that he offered:
MR. W. JACKSON
Surveys of Estates for Acreage and Maps of same.
In 1876 he was appointed Surveyor and Architect to the newly-elected Local Board and later also took on the post of Inspector of nuisances. He still held both these offices at the time of his death, which occurred on 20th July 1893. He was only 53 years old.
The image below of a carte de visite shows that Jackson also undertook studio portrait work.
Edward Agar Garlick was for a short while one of the most prolific but at the same time one of the most elusive of the early St Neots photographers. His carte-de-visites, as illustrated below, appear regularly on EBay, and are not expensive. Edward Garlick was born at Gosberton in Lincolnshire in 1838 or 1839 and appears to have worked at various jobs in a number of places.
He was the son of John and Sarah Garlick and had six older brothers and sisters. The 1851 census shows him as a scholar living on a 130 acre farm apparently run by his mother. Ten years later he was living with his widowed sister in Spalding and working as a decorator’s assistant. By 1871 he had begun his photographic career and was at Stretham in Cambridgeshire, and in 1881 he was still a photographer but had moved to Chatteris where he had lodgings in New Street. Between these two dates he had worked in St Neots, initially with premises at Eynesbury Bridge, but later in Church Street, St Neots.
It was not an easy time in which to be a photographer and in 1879 he wrote of ‘the great depression of trade’ and how he would ‘endeavour to compete with the times’. The carte-de-vistes were probably his main source of income but he offered a wide range of photographic services:- ‘Whole plate views of churches, interior and exterior, landscapes, buildings and every branch of photography, photographs and engravings re-mounted and framed, picture frames made to order.’
Much of the information about Edward Garlick has been derived from census returns and the St Neots Monthly Advertiser, but I am also indebted to Ron Cosens who runs a website on the Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1840 – 1940.
Albert Jennings (below) was not a local man, having been born at Strood in Kent in 1854. By the age of 17 he was a pupil teacher, from which post he would have gone on to training college. In 1875 he married Harriett Charlotte Harvey [note 8] and, in January 1876, took up his appointment as headmaster of Eynesbury National School. After a somewhat uncertain start, he continued as headmaster there until his death on 30th May 1917.
The Advertiser of 29th April 1905 reported. “We have been accorded a private view of a complete series of large photographs of ‘St Neots, its river, and neighbourhood,’ which are intended for exhibition at Earl’s Court during the coming season. These beautiful pictures, which are from the camera of Mr Albert E Jennings, F.Gld.O. [note 10], are done in bromide, and being elegantly mounted, will immediately catch the eye of the many thousands of visitors who throng the Exhibition.”
Albert Jennings produced some fine group photographs, of which the above, taken outside Eynesbury School in 1902, is a good example. Although it is dated on the mount along with Mr Jennings’ name as the photographer, there is no indication as to what the group represented but I would guess that it was most likely the Eynesbury church choir. Mr Jennings can be seen seated on the far right as you look at the photograph.
The above card of the Market Square was one of the earliest St Neots postcards going back to 1902 or before. Initially, as with this card, the reverse of all postcards was undivided and only the name and address of the recipient could be written on it. [note 12] The regulations were changed in 1902 and the back was permitted to be divided so that both address and message could be written on it. This Market Square card was later reissued with a divided back.
When Albert Jennings died in 1917 he was buried in Eynesbury old cemetery. His widow, Harriett Charlotte, went to live with her daughters Margaret Jennings and Eleanor Emblem [note 13] alternately. Margaret had followed her father into teaching and, in November 1925, was promoted to become head of the large Leopold Road Girls’ School in Willesden. It was not long after this that Harriett died, on 16th April 1926. Her body was brought back from Willesden to Eynesbury for a funeral service in St Mary’s, Eynesbury, after which she was interred in Eynesbury old cemetery alongside her husband.
Robert Luff, son of Samuel (labourer) and Mary Luff, was born in January 1878 and was baptised at Eynesbury parish church on 25th January. He was their eighth child and their seventh son. It would seem that Samuel had moved around a good deal. Mary (née Cave) came from Woodwalton and the two eldest sons were born at Swineshed, Lincolnshire, while daughter Rose was born at Potton, Bedfordshire. At the time of Robert’s birth the family was living in Barrack Yard, Eynesbury.
Samuel died in 1878 at the early age of 44, leaving Mary with this large family to care for. Fortunately the three oldest sons were working, two at the paper mills and the third as a garden labourer, and so were bringing money into the home. One by one the family left home and by the 1901 census Mary was living by herself.
Robert, like two of his older brothers, went to work at the paper mills. He married at St Neots in 1899 and he and his wife Agnes (née Johnson) moved to live in Windmill Row. It was here that two of their children were born, Mildred Mary Irene in 1900, and Clarence Victor in 1906. In 1901 Robert’s occupation was given as paper-cutter and in 1911 as paper-finisher. The family had, meanwhile, moved to live at 5 Buckley Road, Eynesbury, and it was here that their third child, Freda Constance, was born on 20th January 1914. She was baptised at St Neots church on 27th November. It seems likely that Robert would have continued to work at the paper mills with no additional occupation, but then fate took a hand for the mills were destroyed by fire in 1912, and it was a year before they were rebuilt and operational again.
It may be conjectured that it was at this point that Robert set himself up as a photographer, perhaps using money that he would have received from the Paper Mills Relief Fund. The first definite reference traced so far is in Kelly’s Directory for 1914 where he is listed as a photographer living at 5 Buckley Road. He had a studio built in the back garden and seems to have concentrated on portrait photography, as in the example opposite. The studio was quite small, remembered by Bert Goodwin, who lives at 7 Buckley Road, as only about eight feet by five and constructed mainly of glass.
Photography must have become very much a part-time occupation as, when the paper mills reopened, he returned to his job there and continued in it until 1932 [note 14] when the future of the mills became very uncertain [note 15]. From there he went on to work for Jordan and Addington for a number of years.
Son Clarence married Lillian Mary Woodward in 1934. Mildred, who stayed at home and never married, worked at Larkinson’s on St Neots High Street. When this shop closed she was given a post in Larkinson’s other shop at Biggleswade. Bert Goodwin remembers that she was always dressed in black and was always addressed as ‘Miss Luff’. Freda Constance married Edward Storton from Beeston in Bedfordshire on 19th March 1938. Her occupation was given as pastry cook, while the newspaper report adds that she had been working for the noted St Neots firm of John Rayns Smith for about ten years. She died in March 1938 [note 16] at the relatively young age of 49.
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