Tuesday, 13 May 2008

John Stringfellow of Chesterfield and Sheffield

John Stringfellow was born at Ecclesfield, near Sheffield, Yorkshire, in 1833, one of five children of James Stringfellow (1797-1828) and his wife Hannah. John Stringfellow's father died in July 1837 when he was only four, and he and his siblings grew up living with their mother in Attercliffe cum Darnall, near Sheffield. He married Elizabeth Wade Bartram Houlden (b. 1840 Sheffield) at St Phillip, Sheffield on 4 September 1866, and they had three children (a son and twin daughters) between then and 1872. His uncle, and namesake, John Stringfellow (1799-1883) developed a remarkable ability in designing and building light steam engines, and later - with William S. Henson and others - achieved some considerable fame as an aeronautical engineer and his work on the Aerial Steam Carriage.

In his teens he worked as an attorney's clerk, and is shown as such in the 1851 Census (30 March; PRO Ref. HO107/2342/461/1/3), when he was living with his mother and two siblings at Glass House, Attercliffe cum Darnall. It seems likely, however, that he took up photography in the early 1850s, and operated a travelling studio. Adamson (1997) states that John Stringfellow was "formerly of Lyme Regis, Somerset [in] March 1858," and "already a widely travelled itinerant [when he] came to Chesterfield in December 1858." He was briefly in partnership with George Edgar, another itinerant photographer who originally came from Sheffield, in December 1858 and early 1859 at Saltergate, but when Edgar moved on, Stringfellow remained in Chesterfield.

Image © & courtesy of Christine Hibbert
Advertisement from Harrison & Harrod's 1860 Trade Directory
Image © & courtesy of Christine Hibbert

Harrison & Harrod's Trade Directory for 1860, presumably compiled in late 1859, contains an advertisement (shown above) inserted by Stringfellow in which he publicized his availablity to take photographic portraits, including stereoscopic images, still at Saltergate. The 1861 Census (7 April; PRO Ref. RG9/2527/108/24/148), shows John Stringfellow lodging at the Spread Eagle Inn, Beetwell Street, Chesterfield. Both he and fellow lodger Paul Turner are described as "photographist jour.[neymen]."

Adamson (1883 & 1997) states that Stringfellow was working in Chesterfield for at least another year, and infers that between 1862 and 1867 he moved to Sheffield.

Image © The British Library & courtesy of Gale Databases

It seems likely that this was around July 1864, when Stringfellow was ordered, in the County Court at Derby, to be prosecuted for bankruptcy in the County Court at Chesterfield [Source: The Derby Mercury, dated 20 July 1864]. John's first child Henry, who died in infancy, was born at Nether Hallam in early 1867, as were two further sons, John Henry in early 1868 and Percy Edward in August 1870. Percy Edward died in mid-1871.

The first records of him working in Sheffield are for 1867 and 1868, when he operated a studio in Alma Street. By early 1871 (2 April; PRO Ref. RG10/4664/94/34/175) the family was living at 77 Prospect Street, Nether Hallam, and in that year Stringfellow was working from premises at 13a Fargate, taking over from photographer George Washington Unwin, who moved to Matlock Bath in Derbyshire. Adamson next shows Stringfellow at 5 Chapel Walk from 1877, although it is not clear where he was working in the intervening period. Since his predecessor at this address, James Thomas, had apparently moved on by the end of 1871, it is probable that Stringfellow took over the premises at that time, and that trade directory and other listings for the period 1872-1876 have merely not yet been discovered. By 1881 (Census, 3 April; PRO Ref. RG11/4626/94/38) the family had moved their residence to 79 Fulton Road.

Image © & collection of Brett PayneImage © & collection of Brett Payne

The carte de visite portrait of a young family shown above is an example from the Chapel Walk, Fargate studio. From the woman's clothing and the square corners I estimate it was taken some time between 1873 and 1876.

On 17 Feb 1882 the Sheffield newspapers reported that John Stringfellow had died "suddenly on the Midland Railway" at the age of 48, and he was buried at Sheffield Fulwood Christ Church on 22 Feb 1882. His widow and their three children continued living in Fulton Road until at least 1891 (5 April; PRO Ref. RG12/3798/67/36/241). Elizabeth Stringfellow was "living on her own means." Anderson (1983) shows her operating the studio at Chapel Walk in 1887, although he also lists the same premises as continuing under her late husband's name until 1889. It is possible that their surviving son John Henry Stringfellow helped to run the business for a while, although by 1891 he was working as a brass finisher.


Adamson, Keith I.P., MSc, ARPS, (Jun 1983) Professional Photographers in Sheffield & Rotherham 1843-1900, Royal Photographic Society Historical group
Adamson, Keith I.P., MSc, FRPS, (Sep 1997) Professional Photographers in Derbyshire 1843-1914, Supplement No. 118 to The PhotoHistorian, ISSN 0957-0209
1841-1901 Census indexed images, from Ancestry
International Genealogical Index (IGI) on FamilySearch
GRO Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes from FreeBMD
The Derby Mercury newspaper, various dates

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