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 5.
Going on His Own
“Mr. William England is probably the largest Continental publisher of European views . . .” – The Photographic News.
“Mr. England has returned from his few months’ sojourn in the region of the Alps, with a stock of negatives of the charming scenery, the most perfect in photography, and the most uniform in excellence, that we have ever had the pleasure of examining.” – The Photographic News, 1864.
Circa 1863 William England left the LSC to establish his own photography business at 7 James’s Square in Notting Hill, London. He continued his foreign photographic journeys with trips to Switzerland (Views of Switzerland, 1863), Savoy (Views of Switzerland and Savoy), Italy (Views of Switzerland, Savoy and Italy), the Italian Alps (1866), the Rhine (Views of the Rhine and its Vicinity, 1867/68), Tyrol (A Choice Selection of Scenes in the Tyrol, 1868), France and Italy (1869), Rhineland (1870), Switzerland (1880), the St. Gothard District (1882), Switzerland (1885), Switzerland (1892), and other beautiful, tourist-friendly destinations. His images from Europe were as widely praised and as commercially successful as his earlier work in the United States and France.
In one of his first trips after becoming an independent photographer England traveled to Switzerland in the summer of 1863. The result was a series of 130 stereoviews titled Views of Switzerland. According to historian Paul Blair, England’s travels “took him to some of the most famous tourist spots: Geneva, Lausanne, Chillon Castle, Sallanches, Chamonix, Gorges du Trient, Martigny, Sion, Zermatt, Interlaken, Grindlewald, Lauterbrunnen, Reichenbach, Rosenlaui, Thun, Bern and Fribourg.” With numerous subsequent trips to the Alps region, the series would later expand to include over 1,000 photographs and was retitled, first to Views of Switzerland and Savoy, and later to Views of Switzerland, Savoy and Italy.
L'Hospice du Grand St. Bernard et le Mont Velan. Views of Switzerland. William England.
In an 1864 review of the Views of Switzerland and Savoy series The Photographic News emphatically praised England’s work, noting that the photographs were the best they had ever seen of the region.
“VIEWS OF SWITZERLAND AND SAVOY. Photographed by Wm. England.
Mr. England has returned from his few months’ sojourn in the region of the Alps, with a stock of negatives of the charming scenery, the most perfect in photography, and the most uniform in excellence, that we have ever had the pleasure of examining. They consist of cabinet pictures, album views, and stereographs. The series before us, consists of the latter, 130 in number, issued under the special patronage of the Alpine Club.
There are, perhaps, few subjects which better repay the photographer with satisfactory results, than Alpine scenery, especially if he be working for the stereoscope, and it might readily have been anticipated, with Mr. England’s well-known fine feeling and skillful manipulation that his Swiss photography should be unusually beautiful. The results before us will satisfy the anticipations of the most sanguine. We have seen excellent photographs of Alpine scenery before, but we have met with none that approach these as pictures, and few that equal them as photographs.
The admirable selection of subjects, the judicious choice of point of view, the rare fulness and gradation of tone, all combine to give this series unusual pictorial value. Perhaps, never was the value of bromo-iodized collodion more triumphantly illustrated than in these pictures. We have snow-clad peaks, and pine forests of deep green in the same pictures, each alternately in foreground and distance, rendered with perfect detail and softness. Here is the glistening, icy, broken surface of La Mer de Glace rendered with perfect texture, without an approach to chalkiness. Here are Mont Blanc, with a view of the Chemin de la Tete Noire, and a view of the Wetterhorn, each with foliage and figures in the foreground, and the snow-clad craggy summits of the mountains in the distance, rendered with equally tender gradations. Harmony is an essential quality of each picture, and there is not a white sky in all the pictures before us. In the more animated scenes on the Lake of Geneva, he is just as happy and successful. Some of the scenes on the lake, crowded with small craft, amongst which the feluccas with their wide stretching lateen sails are conspicuous, are very picturesque. On the lake also, we have exceeding fine views of the Chateau Chillon, awaking memories of Byron’s poem and Rousseau’s romance. To detail al that is beautiful, and describe all that is interesting, would require many columns; we must, therefore, content ourselves by recommending to our readers the series as containing some of the most charming pictures, and of the most perfect photographic studies that we have ever come under our notice.”
Two years later, in 1866, The Photographic News reviewed England’s alpine work, again with overwhelming acclaim.
“In the selection of photographs of Swiss scenery before us, we have the highest perfection of landscape photography; in every technical point it would seem impossible to attain a higher degree of excellence than is here secured, and at the same time nothing is left to desire on the score of artistic rendering . . . the pictures before us far surpass all that we have seen before in almost every quality of excellence. There is an exquisite delicacy of gradation, an infinity of exquisitely marked demi-tones, which we have rarely seen even in very good photographs. With the greatest brilliancy and richness of contrast, there is scarcely a single space of object larger than a pepper corn of a pure white or pure black in any of the pictures; but still minute traces of these extremes are there, giving infinite value to all the gradations of mezzotint, and conferring great brilliancy on the whole.”
As England sought to establish his own business independent of the London Stereoscopic Company, he faced the challenges typically associated with running your own business. In 1863 employees associated with England’s business complained of the working conditions, and took their complaints to the press.
“NOTTING HILL PHOTOGRAPHERS. –We always feel pleasure in advocating the interests of every class of photographic operatives; but we must remind our readers that the bargain between employers and employed, whether it refer to the hours of labour, the work done, or remuneration received, is entirely a personal question between the parties to the contract. We strongly recommend liberality to employers as good policy, and because photography is generally sufficient remunerative to justify liberality. But on the other hand it should be borne in mind that in winter a photographer’s working hours are necessarily short, and that no available light should be wasted in summer. We do not think there is much danger of over-work or under pay in the present state of the profession, inasmuch as the market is not so much stocked with thoroughly skilled workmen to induce any of them to accept injustice. Where there is good demand for any class of labour it will always command a fair price for reasonable hours. An employer who, under such circumstances, attempted to grind his people would soon find them leaving him for more liberal employers. Whatever grievance of this kind exists must soon right itself. We cannot offer a more definite opinion without knowing more of the circumstances, and hearing the case states by both sides.”
One week after the initial complaints were published England responded in a letter to the editor of The Photographic News, providing details on the working conditions of his operation. Note England’s sarcastic finish when describing the sleeping habits of the discovered complainant.
“My dear sir,– In your last Number I saw, in the “Answers to Correspondents,” an allusion to some complaints emanating from the employees of a photographic establishment at Notting Hill.
As I know of no other business of that kind in the neighborhood than my own, I, in justice to myself, beg to offer you the other side of the question. In the first place, no one in my employ has worked more than seven hours and a half this winter and during short days and foggy weather. I will leave you to judge how much of that time could be profitably employed.
As the longer days are now coming in I desired the men to work nine hours per day and boys nine hours and a half. All time beyond that I have always paid for, both to men and boys.
A notion seems to have entered their heads that they should work the same hours only as operators employed in the close confinement of the dark room, and at that requiring infinitely more head work than printing, divided, as it is, into different branches, each one to his own department.
Several of my hands I could have well dispensed with, but having had their services through the summer, I have kept them through the winter, and at full wages too.
During this winter I have paid a lad to be here two hours before the others to get the workshops dry and warm, ready for the day’s operations.
I now, sir, leave you to judge how tyrannical has been my conduct.
Apologising [sic] for this troubling you, I remain, dear sir, your obediently. W. ENGLAND.
P.S.– Since writing the above I have discovered the chief mover in the affair to be an apprentice in the house, of whose character the best I can say (after an experience of five years) is that it is very difficult to get him out of bed before 9 o’clock in the morning.”
In 1866 England can be found traveling through the Italian Alps. “Further on Mr. Foster, speaking of the glorious scenery of the Italian Alps, says “what would not a Wilson or an England effect here!” With many thanks for the great compliment he pays me I may also state that I have a series of views of the Italian Alps, procured during the summer of 1866, and which I am happy to say has been favourably received, both at home and abroad.”
The series titled Views of the Rhine and its Vicinity, which included “the most striking and well-known subjects,” was published in 1867. England, using his own dry plate process, took over 400 negatives of Rhine scenery. The resulting published series was comprised of “80 stereo photographs of the Rhine from Cologne to Mayence, and of the Lahn and the Nahe. Priority is given to the big cities. There are 11 photographs of Cologne, Coblenz and the surrounding areas, 7 pictures of Wiesbaden, then a famous spa. However it is the Lahn which is well presented – there are 16 pictures. Photographs of the Moselle are lacking completely. There are only two pictures of Mayence, and four of the lower Nahe. This series also seems to be incomplete. Whether this is due to the unreliability of the dry plate procedure, to the lack of transport or perhaps other causes, it is hard to tell.”
Abside de la Cathedrale de Limburg sur le Lann. Views of the Rhine and Its Vicinity. J. Paul Getty Museum.
The last statement around the “unreliability of the dry plate procedure” is disputed by the fact that England used dry plates extensively, and successfully, during his Rhine journey. “In dry collodion processes the year has been more rich in good results than in any other branch of the art. Simplicity, sensitiveness, and certainty have been attained in several processes in a higher degree than had before been secured in dry plates. A simplified collodio-albumen process, by Mr. England, in which the preparation of the plate is completed at one operation and with one bath, has been found in his own practice sufficiently trustworthy to be employed commercially instead of the wet process; and during the summer he obtained by it upwards of 400 negatives of the Rhine scenery.”
Further confirming his confidence in dry plates, England, in the same year as his Rhine journey, published several articles regarding collodio-albumen process. One article, titled “Collodio-Albumen Process Requiring but One Sensitising Bath,” was published in The Year-Book of Photography and two articles, one of which was titled “England’s Modified Collodion-Albumen Process,” were published in The British Journal of Photography.
Marion and Company, operating at Soho square, offered the set of England’s Rhine photographs for sale. There were 72 different panoramic views for sale for 1 shilling each, or the complete set, bound in half morocco, with each picture in a linen joint, for £4. The 80 stereoscopic views were available for 1 shilling each.
Following his trip to the Rhine region the prior year, England travelled to Tyrol in the Alps region of Italy and Austria in 1868. The resulting series, titled A Choice Selection of Scenes in the Tyrol, is comprised of approximately 80 pictures, although England was known to add, delete and reorder his sets in order to attract and keep the public’s interest. As with his previous photographic series, the Tyrol series was highly regarded. “The views in the Tyrol, lately taken by Mr. England, are so excellent that they cannot but add to that gentleman’s high reputation.” England’s photographic work in Tyrol is attributed with contributing to the growing development of the tourist industry there.
In 1869 England can found traveling in France and Italy, where he “spent a good portion of the year 1869 taking views on the whole route, from St. Michel to Susa, including the top of the pass – a most interesting journey. Of this series of views a portion was shown at our Exhibition of that year, and also at the International Exhibition last year .”
In addition to his travel and landscape photography, other sets released by England included Views of Sandringham (1863); Views of Holland House (c.1864); Collection d'Objets d'Artet de Curiosité de M. Le Duc de Morny (1865); Gems of Statuary by Eminent Sculptors (1870s); and the London Exhibitions of 1871, 1872, 1873 and 1874.
The Views of Sandringham series was published in 1863 to a popular reception. There were two series of views, one set that included fifteen large views and another set that included fifteen stereoscopic views. For the British public, noteworthy among the series were several portraits of the Prince and Princess of Wales. There were six individual photographs of the Prince, nine individual photographs of the Princess and six photographs of the Prince and Princess together. Other subjects included the exterior and interior of Sandringham Hall, the grounds with “a pretty sheet of water, with some fine old trees; and very effective combinations may be made of them with the house,” and Sandringham Church. One review noted that all the photographs were “likely to be of interest to the large number of loyal subjects who are brimming over with curiosity as to every detail of the life, walks, and ways of this happy and honoured pair.”
The Princess. Views of Sandringham. London Stereoscopic Company. The Princess. [London: london stereoscopic and photographic company, between 1863 and 1901] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2017651255/>.
The Photographic News reviewed the Sandringham series, noting that the scenery was rather “unpicturesque.” Nonetheless, William England still managed to produce a pleasing series of photographs and stereoscopic views, including portraits of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
“PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN AT SANDRINGHAM. By the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company.
To make good pictures out of unpicturesque subjects is a task more difficult than making bricks with straw. All that could be done for Sandringham in the shape of good photography and well chosen positions, has been done, however, by Mr. England and the staff of operators sent down by the Stereoscopic Company. The result is some really pleasing pictures of the hall and grounds, and surrounding neighborhood, both in stereoscopic and 10 by 8 pictures. In the production of portraits the task was easier. The Princess, always graceful and charming – the Prince, always pleasant, easy, and a gentleman, make good pictures in any style; and of the score of different positions, & c., produced by the company, there is not one bad. A group of the Prince and Princess, the latter sitting on a rustic garden-seat, and the Prince leaning against it, forms at once as pleasing a picture and satisfactory likeness as have yet been produced. This picture is published both in stereoscopic size and as a vignetted 10 by 8 picture for framing. All the portraits are good, but the group is a gem.”
The Holland House, located at Kensington, and photographed by England in circa 1864, has a long and distinguished place in the history of London. The historic house was constructed in 1605 by Sir Walter Cope, and later passed through the Rich and Fox families. Originally called Cope Castle, the house takes its newer name from Henry Rich, the Earl of Holland, son-in-law of Walter Cope. The house was mostly destroyed in World War II during the German firebombing runs of the Blitz in October 1940.
In 1865 England traveled to Paris to photograph the art collection of the late Charles Auguste Louis Joseph de Morny, or the Duc de Morny (1811-1865). “DUC DE MORNY’S PICTURES.–It is satisfactory to find the high status of our best English photographers so practically recognised [sic] on the continent. Mr. England has just returned from Paris with a large and very fine series of negatives from the magnificent collection of paintings and other articles of vertu of the late Duc de Morny, now dispersed, by the auctioneer’s inexorable hammer, to all quarters of the globe. Mr. England had the honour [sic] to receive a commission from the Duchess to execute the task, and has also received her gracious permission to publish the series, as a souvenir of this unique collection.”
The Gems of Statuary series focused on the works of noteworthy sculptors. The photographs frequently portrayed a statue reflected in a mirror. Statuary works photographed by England included Hop Queen and Britannia Unveiling Australia by George Halse, Golden Age and Love Restraining Wrath by William Beattie, Paul and Virginia by Charles Cumberworth, Florence Nightingale by Theodore Phyffers, Ino and Bacchus by John Henry Foley (1818-1874), The Bather by Luchini, The Quarrelsome Blacksmith by Leopold Harze, The First Thorn of Life by R. A. Macdowell, Bashfulness by E. Braga, The Finish of a Run with Foxhounds by J. Willis Good, The Bather by Odoardo Tabacchi, Parting of the Lovers by H. R. H. Prince Christian, Cinderella by J. Hirt, I’m First Sir! by Giovanni Focardi, Little Girl with Dove by A. Itasse, Her Majesty the Queen by J. E. Boehm, to name but a few.
Paul and Virginia by Cumberworth. Photograph. Gems of Statuary. William England. Marian S. Carson Collection. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2017650745/>.
By 1868 England had earned a reputation as one of the great photographers in England and Europe, if not the world. He was noted for his artistic efforts and his technical expertise, as well as his willingness to share his technical findings with the entire photographic community.
“For many years he has been chiefly devoted, however, to the production of landscapes, especially stereoscopic and instantaneous work. His success in these departments has been most unequivocal, his especial work work being unsurpassed by any in the world, and equalled by very few.
His views of Niagara, taken under serious disadvantages, upwards of ten years ago, are still the finest views of the grand scenery of the Falls that have been issued. His instantaneous views of the streets of Paris have never been surpassed. His views of the International Exhibition of 1862 were perfect, and, by contrast, give a singular point to the failure in the attempt to photograph the recent exhibition of a similar kind. The Swiss scenery, which for some years has absorbed Mr. England’s attention, is executed with a degree of care which leaves nothing to desire.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic in all Mr. England’s operations is their preeminently practical quality. An earnest experimentalist, with a perfect knowledge of all the capabilities of the art, and a liberal communicator of all the results of his knowledge to his brethern, it is well known to all those who have the advantage of Mr. England’s friendship, that when he advises a given course, or when he publishes a process, it is certain to be practical and trustworthy. A cultivated artistic feeling characterizes all his pictures; whilst their photographic manipulation is generally absolutely perfect. A scrupulous and conscientious care to secure in all cases the best possible result is manifest.”
As for the breadth of his skill, William C. Darrah, a recognized expert on the history of photography, wrote that England was considered “a skillful artist in virtually all areas of photography, but especially landscape, architecture, interiors and sculpture.”
In 1870, while photographing in the Rhine region of Germany, England was the subject of international intrigue. “At his peak, England was regarded as one of the leading landscape photographers in Europe. However this did not help him during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when he was arrested in the Rhine region of Germany and accused of being a French spy. England was eventually released but not before authorities had initially confiscated his lenses, though these were later returned.”
The Photographic News, in 1882, also wrote of the earlier international incident. “It is not so long ago that Mr. William England was arrested on the Rhine, and marched off between two spiked helmets with all the pomp and circumstances of a spy. But this was at the beginning of the Franco-German war; and no doubt if “Gelatine-Amateur” takes care to keep out of sight of the fortifications of Metz, Strasburg, Ehrenbreitstein, and the like, he will not be molested by German officials.”
In August 1870, soon after England’s return from the Rhineland, The Photographic News published some details around the encounter.
“I was somewhat startled the other day, when I was asked by a friend if I had heard that England bad been attacked and plundered by the Prussians. My alarm was removed and my sympathy quickened when he explained, however, that it was Mr. England, and not England as a nation or territory, and that the proper statement of the case should have been that Mr. England had been robbed during his continental campaign of a pair of lenses worth £20, and subsequently arrested by two Prussian soldiers as a French spy. Fortunately, the delay and ignominy were of brief duration, as he was soon able to prove that his occupation was altogether of a peaceful character, and that he was a votary of Phoebus Apollo, not Bellona, I was glad to learn subsequently that he had recovered the lenses, after much bother and the disbursement of cash in “tipping” officers of justice. His photographic operations for the season were, however, strictly prohibited by the military authorities, and he has left Rhineland in disgust, his summer’s work practically ended.
This is perhaps one of the most trivial of the evils caused by the insane war now pending – a trifle compared with the terrible horrors which must ensue; but such trifles are serious when they touch our immediate interests. Who does not echo the wish of simple little Jeanette, in the song, that they who make the quarrels “should be the only men to fight’?”
In July 1870 another version of England’s arrest was published in The British Journal of Photography.
“In the course of conversation, a few days since, with Mr. England, who has just returned from the continent, that gentleman informed us of a series of misadventures which he has recently encountered, and which have culminated in his having had to beat a retreat from the intended scene of his photographic labours. Mr. England, about six weeks ago, left this country for the Rhine, with the intention of taking a series of negatives of the charming scenes to be found in the vicinity of that far-famed river.
The first drawback to his anticipated success was a steady downpour of rain, which set in upon his arrival and continued for several days. This pluvial visitation, however, eventually came to an end, and he at last found himself in the field of his artistic operations. Having occasion to leave his camera for a very brief interval, he found, on his return, that some enterprising native had stolen a bag containing a valuable pair of Voigtlander portrait lenses that were used by him in the production of instantaneous views. These were fortunately recovered, but not until much time had been wasted in feeing policemen and in attendance at a court of justice; and as this happened when the Queen of Prussia was on a visit to Coblentz, where Mr. England was then sojourning, trifling legal matters were not likely to receive immediate attention at the hands of the officials.
Eventually, however, Mr. England got once more on to the scene of action. On the morning of the day succeeding that on which the war was proclaimed between France and Germany, Mr. England was arrested by four Prussian soldiers, who, imagining that he was a French spy engaged to photograph the fortifications on the Rhine, conveyed him before the military authorities. After a short interview they realized the fact that he was simply what he professed himself to be, viz., an English photographer in quest of artistic pictures and not of fortifications. The negatives he had already taken were sent for and examined, and, as these bore out his statement, he was cautioned against taking any more pictures while the war lasted, after which he was released.
The Rhine being thus closed against Mr. England, he has returned home. There are many Englishmen at present on the continent with their cameras, and probably many more have been preparing to go there; but we trust the experience of one of our oldest and best photographers will suffice to prevent other of our countrymen from visit that portion of the continent which is now the scene of strife between Gaul and Teuton.”
In 1872 England was engaged by the Heliotype Company to photograph the London International Exhibition, possibly due to a lack of expertise. “Now for a few instances to the point, which, being strictly true, will, I hope, give no offense. It is no secret that the Heliotype Company, working one of the collographic processes as perfected by Mr. E. Edwards, during their reign as sole photographers in the International Exhibition of this year found it necessary to employ the staff of Mr. England to produce silver prints of the views, statuary, &c., taken in the building for sale there.” For the years 1873 and 1874 England was the sole photographer for the London International Exhibitions.
Historian Alexander Guano wrote of England’s business practices while self-employed. William England “did not himself place any advertisements drawing attention to his photographs in the relevant specialist periodicals. On the contrary, from the description by Pritchard it becomes clear that not even a plate on his house, 7 St. James’s Square, Notting Hill, London, in which his business was situated from 1867 onwards, drew attention to the fact that it housed one of the biggest enterprises undertaking landscape photography in Europe. This shows that England was not aiming at drop-in customers. The question then is, how did he publicise and sell his photographs throughout the world? The answer, most probably, is via a tight network of publishers. Labels and stamps of publishers from various countries are often found on England’s photographs . . .”
Confirming Guano’s observations about England’s business, an article in The British Journal of Photography titled “A London Photographic Establishment” extensively described the England residence and production facility.
“The residence and ateliers of Mr. England adjoin each other, and are situated in the extreme west end, in the outskirts of Notting Hill. In passing through the square – which is one of a very staid character, and the gentility of which is not marred by the presence of a tradesman’s shop – we were struck by the fact that there was not the slightest indication whatever of the vicninity of an extensive photographic establishment. Not only was there not a single “specimen” visible, as we might have supposed to be perceptible, but on the entrance door, which was essentially that of a gentleman’s private house, there was not even a name-plate to indicated either the resident or the profession carried on so extensively in connection with this particular mansion.”
This same article, written in 1865, noted that England was producing an estimated 1,680 stereoscopic pictures per day during normal times. For times of high demand, as associated with the International Exhibition, production could reach upwards of 4,800 stereoscopic pictures per day. As a point of emphasis, the article closed by noting that the England “establishment of which we have attempted to convey some idea is not that of a portrait, but of a landscape photographer.”
In 1881 England wrote to the editors of The British Journal of Photography in response to an earlier article, which claimed the benefits of photographing landscapes in cloudy weather. With this England steadfastly disagreed.
“Gentleman,– In glancing through the British Journal Photographic Almanac, just published, I notice Mr. W. Harding Warner makes the remark that bright sunshine in most cases is destructive to the working of a gelatine plate, and he intimates that more detail and finer pictures may be obtained on dull and cloudy days.
Surely Mr. Warner must be trying to pass a practical joke on the readers, or he can have had no knowledge of landscape photography. If he has examined the works in gelatine recently exhibited by many of the best photographers he will find that all the most successful pictures have been obtained in sunlight. I can also say that in my own experience of some twenty-five years I have seldom taken a landscape on a dull or cloudy day. Close studies, certainly, may be taken; but extensive views without the bright, crisp sunlight I should esteem a failure. If I ever venture out on a cloudy day to take a view I arrange my camera ready, take a comfortable seat on the nearest convenient spot, and wait till the sun makes its appearance, which may be, and has been many times, from minutes to hours; and, in the event of its not doing so till the day is too far advances or my patience has been exhausted, I simply pack up, and, as Jacob Faithful says, look for “better luck next time,” and return on some future occasion.
Dull days, when the sun is not shining, may be profitably employed in selecting the views to be taken when the weather becomes favourable. On such occasions one should carry a compass, and also make a note of the time of day when the light I most suitable for takin the various views.
I have been induced to make these remarks, as they may be of service to the inexperienced. With the compliments of the season, – I am your, & c., William England. December 27, 1881.”
In 1880 the Photographic News wrote of England, his popular establishment and his world-class reputation. “Yes, Mr. William England is probably the largest Continental publisher of European views, and here at St. James’s Square, or rather in a compact little establishment at the back of his residence, is the source of all the prints issued in his name. In the summer, Mr. England travels in Switzerland, the Tyrol, and Italy for months together with camera and apparatus, bringing back with him additions to his series of photographs, the names of which fill a good-sized pamphlet . . . The harmony and delicacy of Mr. England’s landscapes are proverbial; the sun’s glare is never permitted to exercise a baneful influence upon the middle distance and horizon, and this simple shade has much to do with Mr. England’s reputation as one of the first landscape photographers.”
In 1880 England again traveled to Switzerland, including stops at Chamonix, the Pass of Tete Noire and the Matterhorn. During his trip England was accompanied by Captain Abbey and Lieutenant Darwin. The resulting photographs were much praised.
“The most charming effects of light and shade have been secured; summer clouds float over black pine forest and deep shadowed vale, the gloom rendered with full detail, while the high lights are milk-white in tone, with all absence of glare. In nearly every plate, Mr. England has succeeded by the aid of his well-known camera screen, or camera-peak, in faithfully depicting the sky as well as the earth; some of his “cloud-capt” peaks are really marvellous.”
“Mr. England’s pictures come from Switzerland. Look at the Pass of Tete Noire (279). The pathway is but a narrow shelf cut in the rocky side of a steep mountain; as you stand here on the jutting prominence, the whole of the magnificent defile is before you – the pine clad slopes – the lofty peaks towering to the clouds – the sheer precipices of cliff and crag. A clump of black firs in the foreground supply a contrast to the clear bright panorama beyond, and give a sense of the magnitude of the vast mountain ranges before you. Look, too, at the Matterhorn and the Riffel (285), two lofty pinnacles, the one a glittering spire of ice crystals – the other in the foreground a black pyramid that might be taken for the Matterhorn’s shadow, it is so dark and gloomy. Mr. England has never shown a finer series of studies.”
In the fall of 1882 England extensively photographed the St. Gothard route between Switzerland and Italy, “one of the greatest centres of attraction in Europe during the past year or two.” An amateur photographer, who was at St. Gothard at the same time as England, wrote of England’s trip and the resulting photographs. England took extensive views at Amsteg and Wasen and the “beautiful valley of Goshenen.” He shot at Locarno and at the head of Lake Maggiore. His trip lasted well into the fall, so that he was able to photograph several scenes under snow. “Doubtless, long before these lines are published, Mr. England will have arranged mountains and clouds to his satisfaction, and his pictures of the the St. Gothard will be keeping up his well-deserved high reputation.”
In 1885 England was again photographing in Switzerland. Paul Felix Kuhne served as a porter for England for four years, including the 1885 Switzerland trip. Kuhne was engaged to carry England’s photographic apparatus. Kuhne would be arrested 1886 upon accusations from William England and his son John Desire England, being accused of “forging and uttering an endorsement on an order for the payment of 6£., with intent to defraud.” Kuhne was found not guilty.
In 1892 England was back in Switzerland, this time using a new technique of “cut films.” “Although the value of cut films has long been established, more especially those of the smaller sizes, yet it is well that the endorsement of such a well-known practical man as Mr. William England should be put upon record. This veteran photographer, who has just returned from Switzerland, informs us that when he went abroad he took with him twenty-four dozen whole-plate and half-plate films, and, having developed them all, is in a position to say that he has not experienced a single failure directly or indirectly traceable to his having used films instead of glass, as formerly. His film holders are made with a slight curve, causing the films to assume a cylindrical bend towards the lens, and this enabled him to get marginal sharpness when employing a stop larger in size than would suffice if the film were impressed when in a flat position.”
William England continued to operate his photography business in the 1870s and the 1880s. In 1871, as per the national census, England was listed with a profession of “photographer, employs 1 boy, 2 girls.” In 1877, William listed his profession as “artist,” as per the marriage record of his son Walter. The 1881 England census listed William with an occupation of “photo publisher.” In 1887 William’s profession was listed as “gentleman,” as per the marriage record of his son John Desire. That same year a magazine article about the England Brothers firm noted that “Mr. England has for some little time been resting on his oars,” i.e., noting that he was retired. In 1889 William’s profession was again listed as “gentleman,” as per the marriage record of his son Louis. By 1891 he was listed in the United Kingdom census as a retired photographer, i.e., “own means,” but remained active in the trade until his passing in 1896.
“Mr. England was to the front as a clever manipulator and all round photographer.”
England’s technical prowess was widely respected. He widely published a number of practices that he thought worthy of sharing; and if those ideas were published, they were to be respected. “Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic in all Mr. England’s operations is their eminently practical quality. An earnest experimentalist, with a perfect knowledge of all the capabilities of the art, and a liberal communicator of all the results of his knowledge to his brethren, it is well known to all those who have the advantage of Mr. England’s friendship, that when he advises a given course, or when he published a process, it is certain to be practical and trustworthy.”
In addition to his picture taking England was also well acquainted with the technical hardware of the photography trade. In 1861 he notably created the first ever focal plane shutter, which allowed greater control of exposure times. The “focal plane shutter” greatly increased image clarity, thus improving the overall stereoview quality.
“A shutter that works immediately in front of the plate, and now commonly fitted to the highest class cameras. It is believed to owe its practical form to B. J. Edwards, who in 1882 published a description of his apparatus; but some eighteen or twenty years previously the principles were known to William England, who used a crude device working on the same principle a long time before Edwards’s ideas were published. England’s device was a board containing a horizontal slit which travelled in front of the plate in the same manner as the drop shutter of the present-day travels in front of the lens, and it was caught in a kind of bag suspended from the camera.”
Writing for The Amateur Photographer in 1890, W. Jerome Harrison detailed of the history of instantaneous photography. As part of the article Harrison wrote at length of England’s innovative shutter device.
“The dark slide used in obtaining the instantaneous negatives was exhibited. Instead of adopting the usual method of covering and uncovering the lens, Mr. England uses a shutter on the inside of his camera, forming part of the dark-slide. It consists of a shutter having a slot the whole length of the plate. The lower part of this shutter, before the exposure, covers the whole of the plate; on touching a small lever, it is released, and falls rapidly by its own weight, after the principle of the guillotine; in falling, the long aperture or slot passes over the plate, giving in its passage a rapid exposure to every part of the plate, which is again covered by the upper part of the shutter. The slot may be widened or contracted at will, so as to control in some degree the amount of exposure given to the plate. This is an excellent form of shutter, and is now in use by some of our best workers.”
In addition to the focal plane shutter, England was also widely associated with the lens shade. At the May 1890 meeting of the Photographic Society of Great Britain, while discussing the topic of lens hoods, “Mr. W. England wondered why so little care was generally taken to shade the camera. He never went out to photograph without a shade. All cameras ought to be furnished with a hood. He used it in such a way as to all but cut off the image . . . Mr. V. Blanchard said that he believed the mode of shading the lens by a hood was originally suggested by Mr. England and the late Mr. Dallmeyer.”
“The lens shade, which Mr. England was one of the first to employ, if not introduce, is scarcely so well known as it deserves to be. Mr. England invariably employs it for landscape work, and if jointed, as shown in our picture, the shade may be depressed in front of the lens, to cut off every bit of glare on a sunny day. As the peak of a cap shades its wearer, and permits him to see more clearly, so the lens-shade allows the camera to conceive a more vivid image. Such an apparatus fixed to the front of the camera is far better than any make-shift arrangement at the moment of exposure.”
In 1880 The Photographic News published a lengthy profile on England, his equipment and his studio, including some additional details about his lens shade. “Mr. England confines himself for the most part to views of small size, or, in other words, rarely goes beyond a 10 by 8 plate. His favorite travelling camera is standing in a corner, and he sets it up for inspection; it will do for stereoscopic pictures, or for whole-plate negatives. “Here is a simple arrangement for shading the lens,” says Mr. England, and he shows us what appears to be the peak of a cap made of mahogany. We made a rough sketch of this apparatus, and here it is. The front flap measures four inches and the middle flap about three, and the double hinge arrangement permits you to bend down the peak right in front of the lens, if you like, so that you may almost employ it as a cap. But for shading the lens the arrangement is invaluable, and travelling photographers would be wise indeed to adopt so simple a modification to their apparatus.”
In 1868 The Photographic News published a profile of England’s studio, including a description of his innovative washing equipment and process.
“The washing arrangements are very excellent. After the fixed prints are received three or four rapid changes of water to remove the bulk of the hypo, they are transferred to the washing machine, an invention of Mr. England, and used by him for the past ten years, diagram of which we give. It consists primarily of a large trough 7 feet long, by 4 feet 6 inches wide, and 11 inches deep. Placed in this are two trays with lattice work, made of gutta-percha strips, at the bottom. Just above, supported by a bracket on the wall, is a box containing a water-wheel turned by the stream from a tap just above it.
The two trays are connected with this wheel by a rod attached to a crank, and as the wheel revolves the trays are kept in a constantly oscillating motion, which serves the double purpose of preventing the prints from sticking together, and of securing more effectual washing than is effected by great soaking. The water which turns the wheel passes through a pipe at the bottom of the wheel-box into the washing trays; and about once in every hour, the large trough having become full, brings into action a syphon, which empties it in ten minutes, leaving the prints to drain for a time, resting on the gutta-percha lattice work. The washing, thus managed, is found to be very effectual.
The prints are removed each morning after a night’s washing, and placed in a straight heap in a screw press, by which all the water is squeezed out of them, which is a more effectual aid to drying than blotting off; and when spread on canvas frames the prints rapidly dry flat and even, with little curling or cockling.”
In 1888, over 20 years after the publication of the details of England’s washing equipment, those ideas were still being used throughout the industry. The “Optimus” Rocking Print Washer, being sold in 1888, was designed “after a model invented over a quarter of a century ago by Mr. England” with “a form not much differing from its forefather configuration.” One retailer noted that when selling the washer, he did not refer to the equipment as the “Optimus,” but rather the “England,” “as we think Mr. England, who invented it over a quarter of a century ago, ought to get some little credit by the article which gets so many compliments for the way in which it does its work.”
Photographic Washing Machine by William England
Optimus Rocking Print Washer
William England, and later his sons, were noted manufacturers of a variety of plates, including landscape plates, dry plates, lantern plates, gelatino-chloride plates and many others. The drying box was a key piece of equipment in the process, and was described in The Photographic Studios of Europe by H. Baden Pritchard.
“As our readers are aware, Mr. England is facile princeps in the preparation and manipulation of gelatine plates, and his drying-box is the best model yet devised. It is nothing more nor less than a light-tight cupboard, with wires stretched across to support the plates. Through the centre runs an inch gas-pipe, open at both ends, at the bottom of which is a small gas jet which burns inside. At the top and bottom of the box are two draught-holes cut, to which a tin tubing about three inches diameter is attached, as shown in the figure.
The gas tube gets warmed with a very small jet of gas burning in it, a mere pin-hole being sufficient exit for the gas. This warms the air in contact with the tin tube, and also slightly the air inside the cupboard. The consequence is, that a current of slightly warm air is set up, and circulates amongst the plates while supported on the wires, and the drying of the films takes place rapidly. Five or six hours is a sufficient time in which to dry the plates, whilst without the gas jet it would take twenty-four hours or more. In the inside of the cupboard, and near the top and bottom, are placed two cupboard discs to stop the possibility of any stray light entering, and as the whole affair is place in the dark-room, the chances of any such access even without it would be small.
Inside the cupboard door is fixed a thermometer, and the jet is regulated so that a temperature of about 70 degrees is indicated – 80 degrees would do no harm to the plates; beyond that temperature it might not be safe to go.
The small gas jet used is the same as may be seen in tobacconists’ shops; the hole in the end is plugged up, and a very small hole drilled at the side.”
England's Drying Box
Beyond his technical knowledge of the camera and its related equipment, and beyond his expert skill in taking photographs, England also ran a fine manufacturing operation. “Mr. England is a man of resource. At St. James’s Square he prepares his own plates, makes his own varnish, albumenizes his paper, prints and mounts his pictures, and does what lithographic or letter-press work the mounts require. Here is a model little printing establishment with two type-presses and a litho-press; and adjoining is the compositor’s room, with type trays and desk complete. Both litho-press and printing-press are busily at work just now, and stacks of white and yellow mounts are standing by ready for printing. Farther on, across a spacious yard, half covered in with glass, where the printing takes place, is another building devoted downstairs to the toning and washing of prints, and upstairs to albumenizing paper and sensitizing it. The albumenizing is done when eggs are cheap, and there is very little mystery about the matter. The best Saxe paper is employed, and this floated upon the albumen in the same way as paper is sensitized.”
 Blair, Peter. Stereo Views: Victorian 3D Photography of the Alps. pp. 227-233.
 “Critical Notices. Views of Switzerland and Savoy. Photographed by Wm. England.” The Photographic News. Vol. 8, No. 278. January 1, 1864. p. 4.
 “Views of Switzerland and Savoy. By William England.” The Photographic News. Vol. 10. April 20, 1866. London: Thomas Piper, 1866. p. 183.
 “Notting Hill Photographers.” The Photographic News. Vol. 7. March 13, 1863. London: Thomas Piper, 1863. p 132.
 “Photographic Notes and Queries. Working Hours of Photographers.” The Photographic News. Vol. 7. March 20, 1863. London: Thomas Piper, 1863. p 143.
 “Transalpine Photography.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 19. February 9, 1872. London: Henry Greenwood, 1872. p. 69.
 Wettmann, Hartmut. “William England’s 1867 Rhine Journey.” Stereo World. Vol. 29, No. 1. pp. 4-9, 13.
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 “Miscellanea.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 12. June 9, 1865. London: Henry Greenwood, 1865. p. 306.
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 Darrah, William C. The World of Stereographs. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: W. C. Darrah, 1977. p. 103.
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 “Echoes of the Month.” The Photographic News. Vol. 14. August 5, 1870. London: Piper and Carter, 1870. p. 362.
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 Guano, Alexander. “The views of the Tyrol by William England.” The PhotoHistorian. Summer 2019 / No. 184. p. 11.
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 “Sunshine of Shade.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 28, No. 1130. December 20, 1881. London: Henry Greenwood, 1881. p76.
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 “At the Opening of the Bristol International Exhibition.” The Photographic News. Vol. 24. December 24, 1880. London: Piper and Carter, 1880. p. 615.
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 “New Court.—Monday, September 20th, 1886.” The Proceedings of the Old Bailey. London’s Central Criminal Court, 1674 to 1913.
 “Cut Films in Professional Practice.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 34. September 23, 1892. London: Henry Greenwood & Co., 1892. p. 612.
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 Jones, Bernard E. Cassel’s Cyclopedia of Photography. Vol. 1. New York: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1912. p. 262.
 Harrison, W. Jerome. “Instantaneous Photography.” Chapter 4, Pioneers of Instantaneous Photography. The Amateur Photographer. Vol. 12. October 31, 1890. pp. 309-310.
 “Photographic Society of Great Britain.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 37. May 16, 1890. London: H. Greenwood & Co., 1890. p. 316.
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 “Mr. William England at St. James’s Square, Notting Hill.” The Photographic News. Vol. 24. April 9, 1880. London: Piper and Carter, 1880. pp. 171-173.
 “Visits to Noteworthy Studios. Mr. England’s Establishment at Notting Hill.” The Photographic News. Vol. 12, No. 502. April 17, 1868. pp. 185.
 “Correspondence.” The British Journal of Photography. Vol. 35. October 19, 1888. London: Henry Greenwood & Co., 1888. p. 671.
 Pritchard, H. Baden. “Mr. William England at Notting Hill.” The Photographic Studios of Europe. London: Piper and Carter, 1882. pp. 14-19.
 “Mr. William England at St. James’s Square, Notting Hill.” The Photographic News. Vol. 24. April 9, 1880. London: Piper and Carter, 1880. p. 172.