Monday, 27 June 2011

Derbyshire's Women Photographers, 1859-1910

Derbyshire, like most English counties in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, produced few female photographers. That's not to say women didn't have a presence in the photographic industry. If one includes all of the photographic-related trades, then the number was substantial, as women were often employed in a number of subordinate roles in photographic studios, particularly in the 1890s and early 1900s. Their job descriptions ranged from photographic assistant to photographer's printer and retoucher, but they seldom received recognition in the studio name, even if it was a family business. There were plenty of "& Sons" dynasties, but I've yet to come across an "& Daughters" firm, discrimination that was hardly confined to the photographic industry. Sadly, very few women graduated to being photographers in their own right, since the successive expectations of marriage, housewifely duties and children tended to obstruct such career development.

The first recorded female photographer to work in Derbyshire was a Miss Scales of Nottingham, who visited Matlock Bath with John Scales (possibly her brother) in the summer of 1859. She was probably Elizabeth J. Scales (1825-), daughter of Nottingham insurance agent George Scales. In February 1862 Elizabeth Scales married Michael Hutton in St Petersburg, Russia.

Gertrude Fletcher (1859-1930) of Ripley was a significant exception to the general trend. After working as a photographic painter - perhaps a colourist - for her brother-in-law Abraham Booth in Ripley during the early 1880s, she set up her own studio at Hyson Green, Nottingham in the early 1890s. She continued operating until at least 1906.

Miss Ethel Margaret Ames (1880-1964), who was also a china painter at the Royal Crown Derby works, operated a studio in Lower Dale Road, Derby from 1895 until her marriage to Percival Rawson in 1907. Although the census records her living with her husband in Nottingham by April 1911, she may have continued working as a photographer after her marriage, since Adamson (1997) has her listed under her maiden name in Lower Dale Road until 1915.

Ellen Beardsall of Chapel-en-le-Frith described herself as a photographer to the census enumerator in April 1881, but as no trade directory listings mention her, it is presumed she was an employee.

Sarah Charles née Ball (1831-1883), widow of Derby photographer Emmanuel Nicolas Charles, is reputed to have operated the studio in Midland Road, Derby for a brief period after her husband's death in March 1863, and prior to her remarriage to her husband's former assistant W.W. Winter in mid 1864.

Florence Elizabeth Levy (1879-1964) followed her father Thomas W. Levy into the photographic profession, probably in the mid- to late 1890s. She produced portraits under her own name from premises at their home in Uttoxeter New Road until her marriage to Luke Bradley in 1903.

Susannah Elizabeth Robinson née Barnes (1851-1945) and her husband Frederick William Robinson (1824-1894) appear to have had a rare photographic partnership in Long Eaton between 1882 and 1894. According to Adamson (1997) she looked after the studio, while her husband handled the sign-writing, decorating, picture framing and outdoor photography. After her husband died in 1894 she moved to Nottingham and continued to run a studio in her own name until 1907.

Hannah Turner of Granville Road, Swadlincote is described as a photographist in April 1881, while her husband John Turner is a photographer, but nothing more is known about the careers of this couple, who had lived in Woodville, Derby and Macclesfield over the previous decade. It is possible they were employed briefly in a local studio, such as that of G.V. Sankey.


Adamson, Keith I.P. (1997) Professional Photographers in Derbyshire 1843 - 1914, Supplement to The PhotoHistorian, No. 118, September 1997, ISSN 0957-0209.

Heathcote, Bernard V. & Heathcote, Pauline F. (2001) Pioneers of Photography in Nottinghamshire 1841-1910. Nottinghamshire County Council. 62p. ISBN 0902751387.

1 comment:

  1. I immediately leapt to the one card design I had hoping it would be Clayton of Nottingham, given my family’s connections with Notts. However, it was not, it was JW Gorsuch of Holloway. Very decorative though, offering reproductions in watercolour, oils or crayon, without a sitting. A future post from me perhaps when I’m struggling for a subject?


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