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