William England (1830-1896) was a 19th century British photographer who was widely known for his travel images. He was an early adopter of photography, operating a studio in the late 1840s, less than ten years after the daguerreotype was created by French inventor Louis Daguerre. England’s 1859 trip through the United States, including a visit to the Catskills, and Canada gained widespread praise. His image of Charles Blondin tightrope walking across the Niagara Gorge is among the top selling stereoviews of all time. Although largely forgotten today, William England was considered one of the great photographers of his era.
Continued from Part 1 (March 12)
Tour of the United States of America
“William England’s composite picture – his American journey of 1859 recorded in stereo photography – ought to be seen as both the first large-scale photographic record of the country and the last glimpse of it as Utopia on a manageable scale.” – Ian Jeffrey. (p. 7.)
“Yet as a representation of Utopia this picture of America ought to be honored, for it may be the only unselfconsciously realized vision of paradise on earth that we have.” – Ian Jeffrey. (p. 32.)
Circa 1858/59 England traveled to the United States and Canada on behalf of the LSC and thoroughly documented his trip. Within the United States stops along the way included New York City; Paterson, New Jersey; the Hudson Valley including places such as Peekskill, West Point, Sleepy Hollow, and Tarry Town; Trenton Falls, New York; Niagara Falls, New York; White Mountains, New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Natural Bridge, Virginia; Mount Vernon, Virginia; and Washington DC.
The series of photographs, titled “America in the Stereoscope,” or alternatively the “North American Series,” was very popular, being considered among the first views of the United States available for sale in Britain. The stereoscopic views were mounted on a yellow card, which was then enameled on both sides. The reverse side of each stereoview from the United States included a picture of a bald eagle, the national bird, and each stereoview from Canada included the British coat of arms. The reverse side of each card also included the title, description and various quotations or poems. The written descriptions were imprinted with brown ink.
In November 1858, Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion mentioned the work of the LSC in America. “An agent of the London Stereoscopic co. is now in this country, and he has artists employed taking views of scenes and noted places throughout the United States, which will be sent to London and there multiplied, not only for our own use, but for sale on the continent.” Although not definitive, this little anecdote seems to imply that England may have been in the United States earlier than suspected, i.e., 1858. Also, given the use of the term “artists,” plural, William England may not have been the only photographer working on behalf the LSC in the United States, although he is widely attributed as being the “lead” photographer.
If there were additional LSC photographers other than William England in the United States at that time it is possible that one of them could have been Thomas Richard Williams (1824-1871), another famed photographer of the LSC. The following advertisement from Edward Anthony, the largest 19th-century manufacturer and distributor of cameras and photographic supplies in the United States, was published in newspapers across the country.
“MR. BROADWAY PINNED TO THE WALL.
Reader, don’t stop till you get to the end, or you’ll lose the fun.
The following Circular has been scattered about our hotels and other public places:
“From certain advertisements and circulars which have been recently issued, it appears that a New York house, whose efforts at Stereoscopic Photography have but very lately commenced, lay claim to the earliest publications of Instantaneous Views.
“Doubtless they have inadvertently fallen into this error.
“At the same time, justice to the London Stereoscopic Company demand that the mistake be peremptorily corrected. More than twelve months since, the London Company’s eminent artist, Mr. Williams, succeeded in taking Instantaneous Views for the Stereoscope, of New York city, harbor, river, & c. Justly therefore is it claimed for the London Stereoscopic Company, and universally is it admitted by all impartial testimony, that their productions, instantaneous and otherwise, were the first, and the finest, that have ever been offered to the public.
“To confirm this statement, nothing is requisite but an actual inspection of the views in question.
“504 BROADWAY, N.Y.”
Mr. Anthony goes on to dispute, quite sarcastically, the claims of the LSC, with supporting evidence from two other publications. The Anthony advertisement notes a stereoscopic business which had “but very lately commenced.” Earlier that year in 1859 the LSC had opened their own “depot” in New York City at 534 Broadway under the management of Theo. Lessey.
The advertisement, by using the exact name of “Mr. Williams,” describing him as “the London Company’s eminent artist,” while noting photos taken “more than twelve months since,” does seem to place another LSC photographer, T. R. Williams, in the United States sometime around the fall of 1858. The Anthony advertisement also, importantly, attributes the stereoscopic views of New York City and its environs to Williams. The first 19 stereoscopic views of the North American series, as well as number 26, were taken in and around New York City.
An article titled “The Stereoscope” in the November 9, 1858 issue of the New York Daily Tribune also mentions the presence of Williams in the United States, noting that he had been there through the summer months of 1858. “The London Stereoscopic Company makes more than half the Stereoscopes that are made in London. A single section of its establishment has facilities for turning off 1,000 every day. Mr. Williams, one of its principal artists, we met the other day at High Bridge taking views of that noble structure and its beautiful surroundings. He has been through the country during the past Summer.”
The location noted, High Bridge, is listed as number 26 in the North American Series under the title “High Bridge, Haarlem, near New York.” The High Bridge, originally constructed in 1848 as part of the Croton Aqueduct system, is the oldest bridge in New York City. The bridge spans the Harlem River as it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. The New York City parks website notes that “the bridge achieved fame for New Yorkers and tourists and a favorite subject for artists and photographers, a sort of 19th century High Line.” After years of neglect the bridge was restored and reopened to the public in 2015 as a pedestrian walkway.
The possibility of additional photographers contributing to the America in the Stereoscope series was proposed by T. K. Treadwell, a noted stereograph historian. “Rather than a single series, there may have been 5 or 6 different groups issued at different times using images made by several photographers besides William England, according to the recently published NSA Monograph #1 by T.K. Treadwell and Herbert Mitchell, covering in detail the L.S.C. “North American” series. (T. K. Treadwell collection.)”
Despite the presence of T. R. Williams, William England can also definitely be placed in the city of New York area, according to several sources. As per his 1871 article titled “Some Hints on Development,” published in The Year-Book of Photography, England wrote that “I witnessed in New York, some years ago, a singular mode of developing. I do not know if it is at present practised in the States.”
In addition, at a lecture in 1882, England’s presence at New York circa 1857 was noted. “Amongst some pictures which Mr. England has kindly brought we have an instantaneous view of New York Harbour, taken about twenty-five years ago, and I doubt very much whether there are any wet-plate instantaneous pictures equal to that; from age it has become a little bit tarnished, but otherwise it is a most perfect picture. The size is about five inches by four inches.”
In 1897, the Imperial Victorian Loan Exhibition was held at Crystal Palace. In the historical section, the daguerreotype works of England were displayed, including another mention of his photograph of the New York harbor. “In the cases are to be seen one of the finest collection of Daguerreotypes ever got together . . . There are also instantaneous Daguerreotypes, one of New York Harbour, taken later on, lent, amongst others, by Mr. L. W. England, in which the frame of the paddle wheels of a steamer, and the waves, are as sharp as in modern work, as well as an excellent picture of Daguerre himself.”
Many years after his United States trip, in 1893, England again confirmed his presence in New York in 1858 during a presentation about the Daguerreotype process at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Great Britain, later the Royal Photographic Society.
“I have several specimens [of daguerreotypes] taken nearly fifty years ago, one of Daguerre, which is still perfect; another, a copy of a painting taken by Kilburn; also one of myself taken in New York, 1858; also an excellent specimen of instantaneous work which, as you will see, is not much behind the work done at present time.”
An 1865 article titled “A London Photographic Establishment” in The British Journal of Photography noted the presence of the photographic negatives from England’s trip to the United States at his residence and production site in Notting Hill.
“The first room into which we were ushered was that devoted to the storing of negatives, of which there were upwards of ten thousand. They were arranged in separate boxes, which bore the respective labels of “America,” “Exhibition,” “Ireland,” “Wales,” “Switzerland,” and so on. From some of these negatives – those of the International Exhibition, for instance – and incredible number of prints have been produced, and the value of these negatives in the aggregate is very great.”
In 1888, at a meeting of the London and Provincial Photographic Association, England talked of the large demand in the United States for his American photographs. “Mr. William England stated that about eighteen years ago [i.e., circa 1860] he had to make some specially large stereoscopic pictures for the American market, where, at the time, the demand was enormous; he would sometimes send over 300 gross at a time.”
Two photographs from the America in the Stereoscope series can be definitively dated. The first is number 8, “The Atlantic Telegraph Jubilee,” which took place in New York City on September 1, 1858. This stereoview was taken of the “procession in its progress up the Broadway” as the nation rejoiced in the “celebration of the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable.” The second is number 137, “Blondin’s Tight Rope Feat,” which was taken on June 30, 1859. In both cases the date of the photographs was imprinted on the reverse side of each stereoview. Assuming both photographs were taken by England, he would have been in the United States for at least ten months. Given the winter, snow and ice photographs taken at Niagara Falls and in the White Mountains, it is also clear that England was in the United States through at least one winter season.
The Atlantic Telegraph Jubilee, New York. View of the Procession in its progress up the Broadway. William England. 1859, Hand-colored albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Weston J. and Mary M. Naef.
An advertisement placed in May 1859 for the America in the Stereoscope series noted that one of the LSC photographers was in the United States in 1858. “The Company [LSC] have had one of their principal Artists engaged upon these views in the United States for upwards of six months . . .” Given the delay in publication, and the time required for manufacturing, this would have placed England in the United States in 1858, likely sometime between September and November.
The above references provide some clues as to the possible timing of England’s trip. However, what is difficult to reconcile is England’s statement at a September 25, 1883 meeting of the Photographic Society of Great Britain, later the Royal Photographic Society. “Mr. England remarked that in 1857 and 1858 he took the first series of American views ever done by the camera.” And then on September 8, 1882 The Photographic News noted that “When Mr. William England was in the United States, in 1857 and 1858 . . .” In 1894 The Lantern Record wrote that “Especial interest attached to the slides shown by Mr. W. England. Some of these were made on tannin plates from instantaneous wet-plate negatives taken in 1857-8 at Niagara Falls, on the St. Lawrence . . .” These are three different references to William England being in the United States in 1857 and 1858. These dates, 1857 and 1858, would conflict with the common wisdom that England was in Ireland in 1858.
Nonetheless, William England being the photographer of the “America in the Stereoscope” series can be confirmed, at least in part, by the following exchange published in The Photographic Journal in April and May 1861.
“We have before us a collection of twenty admirable stereograms of some of the most remarkable scenery in the United States and Canada, which possess great interest as representations of the natural beauties of the country, as well as the great engineering triumphs of our transatlantic cousins . . . In looking over this collection of stereograms, we were much pleased with the even tone and general excellence of the whole, and we much regret that the name of the clever artist who produced them has not been given.”
In response, George S. Swan, director of the London Stereoscopic Company, wrote a letter to the editor of The Photographic Journal stating:
“In your recent review of our series of American scenery, you express ‘regret that the name of the clever artist who produced them has not been given.’ We have much pleasure in informing you that the name of our artist is Mr. William England, whose connexion with our establishment dates from its commencement.”
The American Scenery series was so popular that it was the subject of industry counterfeiting as early as November 1859. That month, in response to the counterfeiting, the London Stereoscopic Company placed an advertisement in The Times (of London) cautioning those who would illegally copy the series. They included the manufacturing details of their own cards so that buyers could readily identify any counterfeit version.
“CAUTION.–The London Stereoscopic Company have just ascertained that some persons are vending STEREOSCOPIC PHOTOGRAPHS of their American Scenery, either as unmounted pictures, or mounted on a plain drab card. This is to give notice to the trade and the public, that all American Stereographs of their production are mounted on yellow card, enamelled on both sides, with descriptions in brown ink, surmounted with the American eagle; and that those that are being offered for sale, as their productions, either unmounted or mounted on drab card, are either spurious copies or have been feloniously abstracted; and person who have had such offered to them are respectfully requested to communicate with undersigned. GEO. S. NOTTAGE, Managing Partner, No. 54, Cheapside, E. C., Nov. 11, 1859.”
As mentioned previously, the Ireland series by William England and London Stereoscopic Company can be found listed verbatim in an 1859 catalog for the Negretti and Zambra company. The catalog was titled Descriptive Catalogue of Stereoscopes and Stereoscopic Views, Manufactured and Published by Negretti and Zambra. In similar fashion to the Ireland series, the “America in the Stereoscope” series is listed in the Negretti and Zambra catalog under the title of “America.” The catalog, in a section titled “Views and Groups on Paper,” notes that the views are “manufactured and published by Negretti and Zambra.” In addition to the similar or identical view names, the numbering convention is also identical. There is no mention of either William England or the London Stereoscopic Company. It is undetermined if the word of caution from the London Stereoscopic Company was directed at the Negretti and Zambra Company.
The Great Blondin
“Without hesitation he balanced his pole in his hands, and with a calmer and less fluttering heart than could have been found in that vast audience, he commenced his terrible walk. The slightest misstep, the merest dizziness, the least uncertainty, would cast him at once into the perdition beneath, and the crowd held their breaths in amazement as he went on and on over the frightful chasm.”
One of the most famous photographs of England’s time in the United States was his “Great Blondin crossing Niagara Falls.” This photograph would become one of the most popular stereoscopic views of all time, reportedly selling over 100,000 copies. This photograph was included in the National Geographic book titled 100 Days in Photographs: Pivotal Events That Changed the World.
That famous photograph, taken on June 30, 1859, depicts the French tightrope walker Charles Blondin (1824-1897) crossing the Niagara Gorge from the United States across to Canada. At precisely 5pm that day, with thousands of spectators lining the shores, Blondin began his 1,300-foot walk across the abyss. So calm was Blondin, he stopped in the middle to lay on the rope with his balance pole across his chest. Blondin then summoned the Maid in the Mist steamer, and upon the ship reaching the section of the river below, Blondin threw down a rope, raised a bottle of wine, had a sip, threw away the bottle, and then continued with his crossing. Blondin successfully completed the death-defying passage in about 17 minutes. The stunt was widely heralded and was covered in newspapers across the nation and around the globe.
Although Blondin’s feat was witnessed by thousands, written about in the newspapers, and photographed extensively, not everyone, including a leading London publication, believed that Blondin actually crossed the gorge, so sensational, so death-defying was the feat.
“Seeing is not always believing, and here is an example. When Mr. William England was in the United States, in 1857 and 1858 (for Mr. England makes pictures in every land except England itself), he happened to be at Niagara just when the redoubted Blondin made his trip across the Falls. The feat was made much of at the time, and has been made much of since; and Mr. England conceived the happy idea of taking a series of pictures showing Blondin on the rope, over the foaming water, to forward to England. This he did, posting off the packet of wonderful pictures to the Illustrated London News.
As Blondin’s feat was the sensation of the day, Mr. England was rather anxious to see what use the journal made of his sketches; but, on searching, he could find no evidence of their having been used at all. So, naturally enough, on his return he called at the office to enquire if his photographs had been received. Yes, they had come to hand, he was told, with a smile. “Then why were they not used?” he rejoined. “Because,” was the still smiling reply, “we knew they were only a joke.” And to this day, indeed, the fact of Blondin having crossed the Niagara Falls on a rope is regarded as a myth by many people in this country. Certainly, the whole matter is not of very great moment; but when the News had the proof in hand, it is a pity it was published. But in those days there was no Graphic.”
 “Editor’s Easy Chair.” Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion. Vol. 15, No. 22. November 27, 1858. p. 350.
 “Mr. Broadway Pinned to the Wall.” The National Era. Washington, D. C. November 17, 1859.
 “The Stereoscope.” The New York Daily Tribune. November 9, 1858.
 Norton, Russell. “Early and Rare Views from Outside the U.S.” Stereo World. Vol. 16, No. 2. May/June 1989. pp. 22-27.
 “Recent Advances in Photography.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 29. August 18, 1882. p. 478.
 “The Photographic Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 44. May 14, 1897. London: Henry Greenwood & Co., 1897. p. 307.
 “Monthly Technical Meetings.” The Photographic Journal. New Series, Vol. 17, No. 9. June 29, 1893. London: Harrison and Sons, 1893. p. 259.
 “A London Photographic Establishment.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 12. January 20, 1865. London: Henry Greenwood, 1865. pp. 28-29.
 “The London and Provincial Photographic Association.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 35. September 14, 1888. London: Henry Greenwood & Co., 1888. p. 588.
 The Art-Journal. May 1859.
 “Tuesday, September 25th, 1883.” The Photographic Journal. November 30, 1883. pp. 34-35.
 “Lantern Notes and News.” The Lantern Record. February 2, 1894.
 “American Scenery. Published by the London Stereoscopic Company.” The Photographic Journal. Vol. 7. April 15, 1861. London: Taylor and Francis, 1862. pp. 167-169.
 “Correspondence.” The Journal of The Photographic Society of London. Vol. 7. May 15, 1861. London: Taylor and Francis, 1862. p. 194.
 “Caution.” The Times. (London, England.) November 18, 1859.
 “The Great Feat Accomplished.” The Daily Republic. July 1, 1859.
 “Notes.” The Photographic News. Vol. 27. September 8, 1882. London: Piper and Carter, 1882. p. 536.