A Possible Location - York

If the photo does depict the Bronte sisters it is highly unlikely that the location could be found after 170 years, but there are possibilities.

There is a brick wall and a bush in the background so the photo was obviously taken outside. This suggests that it may have been taken by an itinerant photographer, but most photos from the 1840s were taken in daguerreotype studios. There were ten studios in Yorkshire in the 1840s and of these locations the two most associated with the Bronte sisters are Bradford and York.

York is a possibility because the studio existed for five years and was in a brick-built house which doubled as an artist's studio; it also had a small garden. Two of the Bronte Sisters visited the city together but there is no record of all three travelling there at the same time.

Nos.18-20 (previously no.50), Stonegate, York

This building housed the first photographic studio in the city and is now a Jack Wills shop. It is built with bricks of a similar size and type to those seen in the photo and the brick bonding of this and the adjoining building looks erratic as in the Bronte Sisters Photo.

A snicket named Hornby's Passage runs along the left side of the building (below the purple sign in the photo); this is a covered passage at the Stonegate end, and open at the rear.

Behind no.18 Stonegate is a flagged area which was once a garden; this was unusual for a daguerreotype studio in a commercial centre. At one time the garden had a wall separating it from Hornby's Passage but the only surviving section has been rebuilt.

 

York Photographic Portrait Gallery 1844-1849

Samuel Walker, opened his photographic studio at no.50 (now nos.18-20), Stonegate, York, in September 1844. The studio was within a large house where he lived with his wife and children. Photography wasn't his main source of income, he was a house painter, plumber & decorator. He was also a portrait painter.

Unlike the Leeds & Sheffield studios, York wasn't purpose-built and didn't have a rooftop glasshouse. In the 1840s it was a century-old property, only partly adapted for the purpose of photography. It is probable that Walker used the front room on the first floor as it has a large bow window.

The studio was operational from September 1844 until July 1849.  Walker was a an admirer of the York-born artist William Etty (1787-1849) and took a photograph of him in 1848; this is probably the photo which was copied and republished as a carte de visite in the 1870s. Walker sold his daguerreotype license to William Pumphrey, became a portrait painter, and emigrated to America in 1850. Pumphrey opened a studio on Coney Street.

First floor window of the property in Stonegate.

A daguerreotype studio in London, 1843. Many of the provincial studios were small. The space in some was insufficient for an indoor group photograph.

An 1870s carte de visite copy of an 1840s daguerreotype of William Etty. The original was probably taken by Samuel Walker in 1848.

The building in Stonegate is a one minute walk from what was the George Hotel in Coney Street; this is where Charlotte & Anne Bronte lodged whilst visiting York in 1849 and where Emily and Anne are thought to have stayed in 1845. It is also a one minute walk from York Minster which they visited on both occasions.

Bellerby's Circulating Library & Bookshop, no.13, Stonegate, York.

Stonegate, York c1849-52 © Beacon Dodsworth - the full map can be viewed HERE - Stonegate is south of York Minster.

This part of York would have been well known to the Bronte siblings. Whilst working at Mr Robinson's residence, Thorpe Green Hall, both Anne and Branwell used Bellerby's Public Library & Bookshop. Anne purchased books there and Branwell borrowed books using Mr Robinson's account.

Bellerby's was at no.13 Stonegate (now no.15), on the corner of Little Stonegate, and about ten yards from the photographic studio which had opened in September 1844.

Above: Stonegate, looking towards York Minster from the junction of Little Stonegate in the 1850s with Bellerby's Library &  Bookshop to the right. At this point in time Stonegate was numbered anti-clockwise 1,2,3,4, etc., starting  and ending at St Helen's Square. It was renumbered, probably in the 1950s or 1960s, with odd numbers on one side and even on the other. The building which housed Bellerby's is now no.15, Stonegate and for some years has formed part of Mulberry Hall which closed in March 2016: see York Press & YorkMix (external websites). 

Charlotte's Jane Eyre by Currer Bell was published in October 1847 followed in December by Emily's Wuthering Heights by Ellis Bell & Anne's Agnes Grey by Acton Bell.

The sisters were very secretive. When the novels were published under these pseudonyms neither the public nor their friends and family knew who the authors were.

By February 1848 the sisters' novels were listed in Bellerby's circulating library (see advert) and probably already available in their bookshop. Mr Bellerby would not have known that one of the authors was one of his customers.

Even their father was completely unaware, despite the fact that the novels had been written under his own roof. Charlotte only revealed the secret to him after reviews of Jane Eyre had appeared.

Further along from Bellerby's was no.17 Stonegate (now no.23), the residence of William Charles Anderson, surgeon. He is mentioned, in passing, in a letter dated 1852 from Charlotte to Ellen Nussey. This is York Medical Society; his son was Tempest Anderson (1846-1913).

Henry Bellerby also owned the Yorkshire Gazette which had an office at no.13, Coppergate, York. In 1840, when the sisters were looking for work as governesses or teachers, classified adverts were placed in this newspaper. Branwell had some of his poems published in the Yorkshire Gazette in 1845.

 

Brickwork at nos.18-20 (previously no.50), Stonegate, York

Returning now to the house used as a photographic studio, it was built about 1740, probably along with the walled garden. An extension was later added to the rear (sometime before 1852) taking up half the garden. If the photo was taken here then the brickwork seen in the background of the photo could be the wall or the extension.

The bonding of the brickwork seen in the Bronte Sisters Photo is similar to that of 18-20 Stonegate and the later extension to the rear. The bricks have 270 years of weathering and are badly eroded. They also have thick bands of mortar between them where the walls have been repointed.

Only a few bricks have been sheltered from the elements and remain unpointed. These are underneath a projecting ridge and are the best preserved, having a gap of a few millimetres between them, as in the Bronte Photo.

Evidence

 

If only we could compare the wall in the photo to the wall & extension to the rear of the Stonegate property!

This was a photographer's studio between 1844 and 1849 so a match would have confirmed that the image dates from the time of the Bronte sisters.

Sadly, the garden wall to the rear no longer exists as modern apartments have been constructed there and the garden side of the extension has been rebuilt. There is still a chance that evidence could be found. This is a listed building and York is a historic city with no shortage of archives so plans, photos and archaeological surveys must exist.

RIGHT: A feature to the right of the photograph, in the background; perhaps a chimney, doorway, gateway or window.

Below are some recent photographs of the building in Stonegate.

Information about Samuel Walker is on a separate page.

18-20 Stonegate, York - The Frontage.

Hornby's Passage which runs along the left side of 18-20 Stonegate.

A few bricks on the gable end which are less weathered.

18-20 Stonegate, York - The gable end of the building and Hornby's Passage. What was part of the garden wall (left) has been rebuilt.

Hornby's Passage (centre), the rebuilt garden wall (left) and rear of the property (far left).

The property viewed from the rear, with the extension (rebuilt) to the left, the garden (now flagged), what was part of the garden wall (rebuilt), and to the right, Hornby's Passage. The pillar is part of a modern development which may be partly built on the end of the garden. To the extreme right is a modern shop.

The passage is U-shaped, encompassing the property and this is the one on the right-hand side. This is the other side of the (pre-1852) extension seen in the previous photo. To the far right is modern brickwork and a column where the modern development has encroached on the extension. To the top left is the other gable end of the building and below another covered passage leading back onto Stonegate.

Some Bronte connections with York.

Anne Bronte visited York in 1841 and also during her five years as a governess for the Robinsons at Thorp Green. She visited again with Emily in 1845. In May 1849, six months after Emily's death, Anne fell ill; when travelling with Charlotte to recuperate in Scarborough, Anne insisted on staying at York to visit the Minster. There may have been other occasions but there is no record.

The photographer, Samuel Walker, was also a portrait painter, friend and admirer of the York-born artist William Etty (1787-1849). Etty was a character in the Bronte juvenilia (stories written by the Brontes as children).

The artist was York-born but spent most of his career in London. He was asthmatic and returned to York for heath reasons early in June 1848. The last 18 months of his life he lived at a house off Coney Street (the cinema site), a stone's throw from the George Hotel where Charlotte & Anne lodged 24-25 May, 1849.

Both Etty & Anne Bronte suffered from asthma and died six months apart; Anne Bronte in Scarborough, 28 May 1849 and Etty on 13 November 1849 in York.

 

If, in 1845, Anne & Emily had visited the entrance hall of the Yorkshire Museum they would have seen the bust of Dr Beckwith, completed the previous September by their brother Branwell's best friend, Joseph Bentley Leyland. He also created the monument to Dr Beckwith in York Minster but this wasn't completed until June 1849, after the death of Branwell, Emily and Anne.

The Bronte's favourite artist was John Martin whose brother Jonathan had a nervous breakdown and in February, 1829 attempted to destroy York Minster by setting fire to it. Henry Bellerby of Stonegate published: "A full and authentic report of the trial of Jonathan Martin..." which can be viewed or downloaded HERE.

TOP RIGHT: Site of the George Hotel, Coney Street, York. This is where the Bronte Sisters lodged in 1849 and are thought to have lodged on other occasions. LOWER RIGHT: The George Hotel, Coney Street, York as the Bronte sisters would have known it.

York has a rich heritage of early photographic history which includes Hill & Adamson's calotypes of 1844, Fox Talbot's calotypes of 1845 and William Pumphrey's 1850s photos of the city. Samuel Walker was the first daguerreotype photographer in York but little is known about him or his work.