If photographers had only taken portraits of famous people then the twelve
studios which existed in 1840s Yorkshire would have been bankrupt within a week. Most photographs
taken in the 1840s were of ordinary middle-class people because the cost was just about within
One selling point sometimes seen in early photographic
adverts was rather unusual.
The threat of death was ever present in Victorian England, but if you
lost a loved one you could at least retain a true likeness of
them. The early adverts vary from the blunt: "sick or deceased persons
taken at their residences" to the slightly more subtle: "Remember, a good
likeness is all that can be rescued from the grave." In some later adverts all this is
inferred rather than stated.
This may seem strange and morbid to us today, but these were very
different times. There was an extremely high death rate. The average life
expectancy for Haworth residents was just under 26 years of age and over 40% of children didn't
reach the age of six.2.
The Bronte sisters were not exempt, they lost their mother in 1821
and sisters Maria & Elizabeth in 1825. Aunt Elizabeth Branwell died in 1842, the
same year as William Weightman, the 28 year-old assistant curate. Between these dates many of
their friends and acquaintances will have died at a young age.
Of the three sisters, only Charlotte lived long enough to experience fame so if
they were ever photographed the image would have been, or would
have become, a very personal keepsake.