Which Photographer?

The 'Haworth Parsonage Photo' at the BPM was taken about 1857 and it is thought to be the oldest photograph in the archive. By this date photographers were using machine-cut mats so it is unusual to find one with a hand-cut mat and even more unusual for it to be so roughly made with only one straight side.

The metal mat of the 'Bronte Sisters Photo' is cut in the same unique way so they will have been taken by the same photographer. Who could have taken them?

In the 1850s, James Barraclough (b.1824),  watchmaker, clockmaker, jeweller & ironmonger, lived in Thornton, about six miles from Haworth. His father was John Barraclough (1802-1880) and the family shop was in Main Street, Thornton. 1.

In the 1860s James was also an early photographer and took many views of Haworth. He took photographic portraits of Rev Patrick Bronte c1860. About the same time he copied Branwell's 'Pillar' and 'Gun-Group' paintings of the sisters for Martha Brown; these were all collodion "photos on glass."

The 'Haworth Parsonage Photo' of 1857 was owned by one of his descendents2. so it would be easy to conclude that he took both photos, but there are doubts about this. James was known for being "neat and precise in everything he did" 1. and most of the early photos of Haworth (probably taken by James Barraclough) are well presented with a good quality ornate mat surround, sometimes housed in a velvet lined hinged case. The 'Haworth Parsonage Photo' & 'Bronte Sisters Photo' are quite different; they have scruffy metal mats which were created with very little care. They are quite unlike any other photographs of Haworth. Most of these can be dated to the 1860s, not the 1850s.

Many items from the Parsonage ended up in the hands of local residents. The Barraclough family were well known and trusted by the Bronte family so it may be that the 'Haworth Parsonage Photo' was taken by another photographer and given to James, or that it was amongst items purchased when the contents of Haworth Parsonage were sold in 1861.3.

The photographer John Stewart (1814-87) visited Haworth in 1856 to photograph George Richmond's portrait of Charlotte for Elizabeth Gaskell and George Smith, her publisher. Stewart made another visit later that year. On a third visit, early in 1857, he took photographs of Haworth for Mrs Gaskell before returning to his home in France.

The 'Bronte Sisters Photo' was found in France and the writing on the reverse is in French. John Stewart lived in France and returned there in 1857 but Elizabeth Gaskell also travelled to France on completion of the biography of Charlotte Bronte in February 1857.


1. "Next door was a long, low shop, an annexe for one across the road. Originally opened by John Barraclough, 'Old clocky', who came from Haworth, in my day it was run by his son, Mr James Barraclough. This was probably the most important shop in Thornton. It was a hardware shop where one could buy anything required for the home or workshop. They also stocked rings, brooches and other kinds of jewelery and, of course, clocks and watches were of special importance.

James Barraclough was a 'chip off the old block' and followed the family tradition as an expert clock and watch repairer. Neat and precise in person, he was neat and precise in everything he did. When I walked down Market Street I was often attracted by a coffin-pate in his shop window. These plates were engraved by Mr Barraclough and they were wonderfully well done. I always thought that it was a shame that such beautiful work was going to be buried. Mr Barraclough was one of the first photographers in Thornton. A number of his photographic plates are still in existence and prove him to have been an artist of real merit. It's interesting to note that his grandson because a clever portrait painter."

'When I was a Lad' by A.A. Thomson, London, Epworth Press, 1964, p.62

2. Ann Dinsdale, Bronte Parsonage Museum.

3. For example, the tracings relating to the Gun-Group portrait once belonged to John Greenwood, a contemporary of the Bronte sisters. His descendants assumed that he had made the tracing from the portrait. It is more likely that they were created by Branwell to compose the painting in the 1830s and acquired by Greenwood in the 1850s or 1860s.