Samuel Walker, York's first Photographer

Samuel Walker was born c1811 and married Sarah Bennett at St Michael-le-Belfrey, York in 1834. Known children are: Eliza Walker (born c1835), Joseph Walker (c1836), Samuel H Walker (c1839), James Bennett Walker (c1840), Sarah J Walker (c1842), Matilda Walker (c1846)

Samuel Walker was a painter, decorator and plumber but he was also a talented portrait painter. From about 1844 he lived at no.50 (now 18-20) Stonegate, York.

No.50 Stonegate was built originally c1720 for Theophilus Garencieres, apothecary(son of a then very famous French apothecary, Theophilus de Garencières). In the late 1830s & early 1840s it was occupied by Thomas Cooke, again very well-known in his day, but as an optical instrument maker.

Daguerreotype photography was the birth of photography as we now know it and arrived in England in 1841. Unfortunately, Richard Beard bought the patent rights for the whole of England & Wales. To open a daguerreotype studio a license had to be purchased from Beard. The license for York gave the photographer exclusive rights to take photographs in the City of York and 20 miles around. If you used daguerreotype camera without a license then Beard could prosecute.

An advert (above) appeared in local newspapers in April 1844 and Samuel Walker travelled to London to learn daguerreotype photography, probably at Beard's studio, and purchased the license for York. His studio was up and running by mid-September 1844.


Stonegate, York 1in the 1880s.

Walker had been a portrait painter beforehand so his shop probably displayed paintings alongside daguerreotypes. He was in competition with other portrait painters in Stonegate and nearby streets.

The cost of a daguerreotype, at one guinea, would be about the same as having a small likeness taken by a portrait painter. The difference was that the daguerreotype really was a true likeness.

In April 1846 the York Institute of Popular Science & Literature held a bazaar in their newly-built lecture rooms. There was an exhibition which included many artworks and included some of Walker's daguerreotypes of "some of the principal inhabitants of York."

Walker's decorating business continued to run alongside and between May and July 1846 he (or his employees) were redecorating Salem Chapel in St.Saviour's Place.

The photographic side of the businesses probably suffered after the railway bubble burst, impoverishing previously wealthy clients. In 1849 Walker sold his daguerreotype license to William Pumphrey who opened a daguerreotype gallery in Coney Street in July, 1849. The advert above is from this date and Pumphrey has halved the cost of a daguerreotype portrait.


Walker returned to portrait painting in York for a brief period.

 The York Herald, 16 March 1850

We yesterday had the pleasure of inspecting a full length portrait of Lieutenant Ainslie, of the 1st Royal Dragoon Guards, whose regiment is now stationed in York. The Lieutenant is represented in full dress costume and is standing in an easy and natural position, with his helmet in his right hand, his left supporting his sword.

It is painted by our fellow citizen, Mr.Samuel Walker, of Stonegate, and is an admirable production, both as regards the composition of the picture, the faithfulness of the likeness, and the free and beautiful style of coloring, which speak much for the talent of the artist. Our readers will observe, by advertisement, that it is exhibiting for a short period at Mr Glaisby's Library, in Coney Street.

About September 1850 Walker sold the house and business in Stonegate and moved to London. In the 1851 Census he was living with his family in rooms at 14, Buckingham Street. The artist William Etty had rooms on the top floor of the building from 1826 until his death in 1849.

Walker later emigrated to America.

The York Herald, 8 June, 1861


Some few years ago, Mr.Samuel Walker, who resided in Stonegate, in the city of York, retired from the business of ordinary painter and decorator, and turned his attention to a higher class of art - in short he became an artist, and many even of his early productions excited considerable interest. He soon after left York, and, we believe, studied for some time in London. From that period to the present we have heard little of Mr Walker, except that he had found scope for his genius in the New World.

A recent number of a newspaper published in New Orleans, however, proves that Mr Walker is not only a resident in that city, but that he has already considerable fame as an artist. As the particulars will doubtless be interesting to many of the friends of Mr Walker in this country, we make the following extract.

"We are not those who are picture-mad, and can go into dangerous physical demonstrations over the quiet coloring of Elliot, or the dazzling supernatural splendors and terrific preternatural glooms that combine to make the insane skies, the gamboge suns, the blinding sunsets, and the scorching noon of Turner's papers. We like to look at a painting that is true in its representations, happy in its harmonies, pure in its tone, and correct in its drawing, making a whole that is perfection. Hence we visited Mr Samuel Walker, no.175, Canal Street, and feasted our eyes over some fine works of art emanating from his skilful pencil.

Major James Burdge WaltonWe found Mr Walker, as a painter no unworthy of his great master, the celebrated William Etty. On the walls of Mr.Walker's studio there are many fine works of art, but none deserving a notice more appropriate to this column than the painting of Major James Burdge Walton, of this city - a painting ordered by the members of the battalion of Washington Artillery, and by them presented to their worthy Major, as a slight token of their high admiration of him as a gentleman, friend and soldier.

This painting is a fine one. The figure is in a very spirited and easy position, and yet strictly military and commanding. Mr Walker, the artist, has evidently accomplished what he had aimed at, a military portrait of the Major, and those who have observed him at the head of his battalion, will at once recognize that decision and determination of expression peculiar to the Major when in the discharge of the duties of his command.

The figure is relieved by a massive column of granite, in which is seen the real texture of the marble. The whole is relieved by a splendid, glowing sunset sky, and in the distant landscape is seen a group of the Washington Artillery (all portraits of the Company) firing a salute commemorative of the Declaration of the Independence of South Carolina, when Mr Walker got the idea of the group. The painting is nine feet high and six feet wide; the whole is painted in a bold artistic effect and yet every detail in the painting has the very texture of what the artist had intended to represent.

Those who are acquainted with high art will at once pronounce it a production of an educated artist, well acquainted with the rules of art. The painting will remain at Mr Walker's studio for some weeks prior to its removal. The public are invited to call at Mr Walker's and examine the painting, and where upwards of two hundred paintings, among which is the full life sizes portrait of the late Duke of Wellington, and a large painting of the Earl of Stafford, with his private secretary, the night previous to his execution. Of Mr Walker's studio we shall have more to say anon."