Collecting the details of photographers from 19th century England is like stepping back in time to the days of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Even the names of some photographers have a Dickensian ring to them. Names like Squibbs, Wiggins, Decimus Shoosmith, Mr C Mole and Netterville Briggs are just some of the examples that might be found in the pages of Great Expectations or Bleak House. Percy Parsons of Worcester could be one of Dicken’s cheerful country characters, while Truckle and Sons sound as though they are lurking in some dusty studio down an unprepossessing alley in Wimbledon. Mr Christmas of London sounds very benevolent and cheery, though Courtenay Wynne of Brompton sounds decidedly pleased with himself and his photographic endeavours.
Whatever name Victorian photographers went under, the services that they offered their customers were pretty much the same across the board. Almost every cdv has on its backing advert the information that negatives were always retained by the photographer and extra copies could ‘always be had’. Not only that but said photograph could be enlarged up to life-size or scaled down as a miniature for a locket, then finished off in oil, or crayons. Some photographers pressed home this point at great length but Mrs Coggan, working out of Shepton Mallet, came straight to the point.’Duplicates can be obtained by sending the number’ was the message from her studio; Mrs C was evidently a lady of few words.
Some photographers, for example, Mr J Warwick of Carlisle, were at pains to point out that ‘All orders to be paid for at time of sitting’, thus avoiding the need to press for money in the case of non-payment. And the range of services even went outside the studio. As photographic equipment became more portable, photographers offered home visits for family sittings and children could be ‘captured’ by new rapid processes. Mr Miller of Wellingborough went even further in his efforts to accommodate his customers, offering photos of ‘deceased persons’, as well as live ones presumably. Photographs of the deceased were not uncommon though they are sad reminders of how short life could be in Victorian England. The photographers of Victorian Britain were as varied as the customers they served. If it hadn’t been for them, we would not have the fascinating archive of photographs that continue to delight and surprise us to this day. Below is a sample of some their photographic works.