A Possible Location - York

If the photo does depict the Bronte sisters it is unlikely that the location could be found but one possibility is York.

In the 1840s most photos were taken in daguerreotype studios. There were ten studios in Yorkshire by the end of the decade and of these locations the two most associated with the Bronte sisters are York and Bradford. 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
Hornby's Passage is
 below the purple sign in the photo but public access may be restricted.

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, it 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. The camera flash had not been invented and a good light source was essential so Walker may have 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 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 her brother 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 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. 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.

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.

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 this newspaper in 1845.

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

The house used as a photographic studio was built about 1740, probably along with the walled garden. An extension was later added to the rear, 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 with 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.


This was a photographic studio between 1844 and 1849. If the features seen in the wall in the photo were the same as those in brickwork to the rear of the property this 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 surveys may exist.



Photographs of the building in Stonegate.

Information about Samuel Walker.

 Some Bronte connections with York.