As the Prince of Wales begins a tour of the Middle East, a Bedford ancestor (from my mother's father's family) is commemorated at Buckingham Palace for his photographic record of another Middle East tour by a previous Prince of Wales. Edward, heir to Queen Victoria, who went on to reign as Edward VII from 1901 to 1910, was travelling for four months in 1862, and Francis Bedford (1815-94) was appointed by the Queen to photograph the trip, the first time a photographer was asked to do so on a royal tour.
The exhibition at the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace, Cairo to Constantinople, shows a selection of his photographs, and has been widely advertised on the London tube:
Bedford returned from the tour with a collection of 210 plates, which he was invited to show to the Queen at Osborne House. He also published a book (cover above).
The idea of sending a photographer on the tour was to make the heir to the throne look statesmanlike. He was only 21 at the time, and it turned out he would have to wait another 39 years to succeed his mother. But the effect wasn't really achieved as hardly any of the pictures show the Prince (with the odd exception, below). Bedford seemed more interested in photographing impressive landscapes, on which carefully places locals give scale and add atmosphere.
The Prince of Wales is seated, centre, with white jacket and black hat
I wonder whether the lack of pictures of the Prince had anything to do with the fact that as well as having to assemble his subjects carefully in front of the camera, Bedford would have had to ask them to sit completely still for ten to twelve seconds while the photographic plate was exposed.
The process of taking pictures on the tour was interesting enough for Punch to have a cartoon of it (which I photographed through the glass at the exhibition):
"The Prince of Wales' visit to Egypt: his Royal Highness examining the negatives taken by Mr. Bedford, photographist, at Philae"
There isn't a picture of Bedford on the tour, but Punch got his beard right: the exhibition includes the portrait below, taken a few years earlier.
There's an excellent book about the exhibition, which tells us that Bedford was born in Rochester Road, Camden, the son of an architect. In 1843, he was living at 40, Ely Place, off Holborn, when he married Mary Graham, the daughter of an upholsterer. (According to Wikipedia, Ely Place is the last privately owned street in London, which may explain why it can't be seen on Google Streetview).
It seems that Bedford made the most of his royal connection. The book says that "Bedford's reminiscences of the Middle East tour were heard for many years afterwards, and from 1862, his cartes-de-visite were always emblazoned with the stamp 'Photographer to the Prince of Wales'."
Francis Bedford is a distant ancestor of mine - first cousin four times removed, and the same applies to my Bedford cousins of course. So a group of us assembled to pay our respects to our distinguished family member:
Here's how Francis Bedford is related to my grandfather, Frederick Gordon Hay Bedford:
When we were at the exhibition we got talking to one of the curators, who told us that another party of Bedford descendants had visited already. They said they were connected to Francis Donkin Bedford (1864-1954), a book illustrator, and the nephew of Francis Bedford the photographer. On my Bedford family tree, I have Francis Donkin as the father of four daughters born between 1897 and 1905. But I don't have any record beyond their births. If these Bedfords married and had offspring who visited the exhibition, there probably wouldn't have been any Bedfords by name among them, since they would probably have taken their husbands' names. The same is the case in my family, where Frederick Gordon Hay Bedford also had four daughters.
It seems that Francis Bedford was a significant pioneering photographer, who was serious about his art. I assembled the following collection of background material about him, including an interesting description he wrote about the trials of photography in his time. Today taking photographs is so easy and so cheap - but are our pictures any better?
From Birmingham Central Library website:
Part 1: The Francis Bedford Topographical Photographs from Birmingham Central Library
53 silver-halide positive microfiche plus guide
Some 3,000 photographs make up this topographical collection.
Francis Bedford, 1816-1894, was one of the best known English landscape photographers of the wet-plate period. He worked extensively in the South West of England, the West Midlands and in Wales.
Most of the negatives were taken after 1860. The few taken as late as the1890s were the work of Bedford’s son. Between 1843 and 1849 he frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy. In the 1850s he produced numerous publications featuring his work including two Photographic Albums, 1855-6; The Treasury of Ornamental Art, 1858; and The Sunbeam, 1859. By 1861 he had been elected Vice-President of the London Photographic Society. The 1860’s was hismost active decade. His business by then was flourishing and lucrative.
In 1862 Bedford received a Royal Commission to accompany the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) on his educational tour of the Middle East. In 1864 he contributed to The Ruined Castles of North Wales and over the next four years produced a whole series of Photographic Views covering North Wales, Tenby and neighbourhood, Exeter, Torquay, Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon and neighbourhood. This was definitely his most productive period and the core of the collection reproduced here bears this out. Malvern, Warwick, Ludlow, Wells, Chester and Torquay are all well featured.
In a Keynote article, entitled Landscape Photography and its Trials published in the Year-book of Photography and reprinted in The Philadelphia Photographer Vol XIII, No 148, April 1876, Francis Bedford wrote as follows:-
"The life of the landscape photographer is assuredly an enviable one. The pursuit of his favourite art leads him to pleasant places, and brings him face to face with whatever is most lovely and enjoyable in Nature’s fair domain; but it is not a life of unmixed content. How often it happens that the buoyant hopes with which he has looked forward to the coming trip are disappointed, and the harvest on which he has too confidently reckoned is never reaped! I do verily believe that no member of the community is so sorely tried as he is. He may be a master of his art, and yet his most carefully laid plans, and all his efforts, may be frustrated by a spell of bad weather. Causes entirely beyond his control often reduce him to inaction, and unless he be blessed with wonderful patience and determined devotion to his art, he soon becomes dejected and hopeless. So many are the conditions of success that it is scarcely to be expected that all will go well with him. A light sunshiny day, and prefect stillness, are indispensable for some particular view on which he has set his heart. He has carefully studied it beforehand, and he comes to it full of spirits, hoping to secure at the right moment the bright picture he has painted in his mind’s eye. The camera is adjusted, and the plate is ready, when, to his infinite chagrin, the sun goes behind a cloud from which it is not likely to emerge again; or the wind rises, and sets in motion the trees or foreground foliage, on which all the beauty of the picture depends. Or, greater trial still, successive days of rain or wind or leaden dullness bring maters to a stand still altogether, unless he be sufficiently hopeful and patient to take advantage of such casual gleams of sunshine as may come even on the most unpromising days; and that is just what he must make up his mind to do, for it is often on these very days, when it appears to be of little use venturing out at all, that a break will come in the clouds, and the sun shines out white and bright, and the most charming effects are seen. Such chances should never be neglected, for they may prove to be the sole opportunity.
But it is quite possible on the roughest days to get good results with the exercise of a little patience. Of course, if wind blows continuously, as it does sometimes without cessation, landscape photography is simply impossible; but when it comes in sudden gusts, violent enough, perhaps, to dash the camera to the ground, there are intervals of perfect stillness, during which foliage may be rendered perfectly by uncapping and capping the lens at the right time. A plate carefully prepared, with a bath in good order, and then closely drained, will keep longer than is generally supposed, and it will be hard if one cannot, during half or three-quarters of an hour, get the requisite two or three minutes exposure. But I would suggest here that he should, first of all, fix his camera-stand firmly in the ground, and then, with a stout string, suspend from the screw-head a big stone or other heavy weight. He will then be free from any solicitude for the safety of his camera, and can give all his thoughts to his work. Sometimes small shrubs or weeds in the foreground cause such annoyance by their motion when all else is still; these may be judiciously pruned without injury to property. If a bough of a tree obtrudes, or is otherwise troublesome, it is better to tie it back out of the way, and release it as soon as your view is taken. I have succeeded in obtaining, in a very high wind, subjects consisting almost wholly of foliage, which had all the appearance of being done on a perfectly still day. If, however, the wind, our greatest foe, proves too much for us, even then there is good work to be done. There are often magnificent cloud effects at such times, and if the photographer will set to work upon them, he may obtain a stock of such cloud negatives as will serve to convert comparatively uninteresting views into perfect pictures.
And then, again, while waiting for this or that view, which can only be done on a very perfect day, the true worker need never be at a loss for subjects for the camera; there is a wide field open, and he will find occupation of an improving and delightful kind in taking, as occasion offers, studies of many a picturesque object full of interesting details. An old barn or shed, for instance, with a cart or implements of farm industry; or a pretty cottage mantled with ivy or clematis, with perhaps its aged and simple inmate or a little child at its rustic porch; boats and other craft on the sea beach, or a group of brambles and ferns by the roadside, or a gate at the entrance to a wood, - such subjects as these, and may others of a like nature, are often met with in sheltered spots, and can be photographed successfully even on a dull and windy day; and they form such choice "bits" as his artist friends, when they turn over his folio, will stop at, and find true delight in."
This article provides a very good insight into the man, his temperament, methods of work and the way in which he uses special techniques to enhance ordinary photographs. It highlights his painstaking approach with landscapes with a thorough appraisal of the problems faced by the photographer on a day to day basis. His attention to detail was just as impressive with architectural and ecclesiastical subjects which also formed a significant portion of his work.
Photographs were an important part of Victorian life. Francis Bedford is acclaimed as one of England’s more significant early landscape photographers and his work is a good example of both techniques and the type of material covered during this period.
This collection will be an important addition for any library documenting the History of Photography and landscape techniques, as well as providing an excellent record for the landscape of rural Britain in the early Victorian period.
EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION BY PHILLIP N ALLEN
(formerly Social Sciences Librarian at Birmingham Central Library)
Francis Bedford (1816-1894) was an extremely respected photographer of the mid-nineteenth century whose landscape images were highly acclaimed. The Bedford archive which is now preserved in the Central Library at Birmingham comprises some 2,700 negatives and a further 2,000 prints. All the images in the collection are reproduced in this microfiche edition together with a detailed listing and subject index giving fiche number, reference number, place, county and title of each photograph.
Francis Bedford was born in London into the middle-class family of Francis Octavius Bedford, an architect of some distinction, who designed some six churches. Francis Bedford was the eldest of five children and probably received his earliest training in his father’s architectural practice. In this respect it is interesting to note that interiors and exteriors of churches loom large in his later photographic output. Between 1833 and 1849 Francis exhibited a number of architectural drawings and watercolours at the Royal Academy and these again were mainly of ecclesiastical buildings. It is also clear that Bedford was a skilled lithographer for he produced A chart of Westminster Abbey in 1840 followed by A chart of church architecture and The Churches of York in 1843. Digby Wyatt hired Bedford to produce158 coloured lithographs for the monumental Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and by the mid1850s Bedford was combining his artistic and photographic skills forin the Treasury of Ornamental Art, published in about 1858, it is recorded that the images were "photographed and drawn on stone by Francis Bedford".
Exactly when and why Bedford took up photography has not been established but it is possible that the introduction of the collodion wet-plate process in 1851 indicated that the new art had a bright future and that his real involvement dates from this time. It should also be noted that according to his obituary in The Bookseller (6 June1894) the publishers of all the above works, Day & Son, actually suggested that he should take up photography.
It is recorded that Bedford was one of the original members of the Photographic Society which was founded in 1853 and he certainly contributed images to their first 1853-4 exhibition and to subsequent shows until 1870 when he seems to have given up in favour of his son William.
He also contributed to the first Photographic Album published in 1855and a view of Pont-y-pair to the second volume (1857). Wales was to loom large in Bedford’s photographic output and of the 9,000 images recorded in his sales catalogue about 900 are views of Wales. Bedford had a great affection for Wales and even had a house at Larne but it was North Wales that received his attention as a photographer. His Chester publishers, Catherall and Pritchard, issued a set of stereoscopic views of Chester and North Wales in 1860 and the Ruined Castles of North Wales followed in 1864. Catherall and Pritchard continued to publish and distribute Bedford’s images even after his death in 1894 and were probably using stock prints which had been made at the Camden Road address from whence Bedford operated.
An examination of Bedford’s published catalogue shows that he photographed almost exclusively in the western half of Britain and did not stray much further north than Blackpool. All the places which he visited were noted for their scenic beauty or had become established tourist attractions. The advent of the railways in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and the inauguration of organised tours by Thomas Cook from 1836 promoted tourism and the introduction of cheap workman’s trains in the 1860’s and the establishment of Bank Holidays in 1871 acted as a further stimulus. It is interesting to note that Black’s Picturesque Tourist and Road and Railway Guide Book through England and Wales published in 1851 and similar guides mention almost all the places which Bedford chose to photograph and it is thus clear that he was fully aware of the commercial value of his work
Details of Bedford’s personal life are very shadowy but is would appear that he was of a very modest and retiring disposition if not positively reclusive. He seems to have left the parental home as early as 1833 and lived an almost peripatetic life until he bought the house at 326 Camden Road, London where he resided and used as his business address until his death in 1894. The name of his wife remains unknown but we know that his only son, William, was born in 1846.
He was elected as a member of the London Photographic Society in 1857and it was in this year that he received a commission from Queen Victoria to produce some views of Coburg as a gift for Prince Albert. This was not his first royal commission but it led to Bedford’s appointment as photographer on the tour of the Middle East by Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1862. The 1860s proved to be Bedford’s most active decade during which a large number of publications illustrated with his fine photographs were produced, he was awarded medals and was elected as Vice-President (1861) of the London Photographic Society. Although he was re-elected as Vice President in 1878 Bedford seems to have retired from truly active participation in the work of his chosen profession in favour of his son, William, whose work is almost indistinguishable from that of his father.
In 1886 Bedford retired from the Council of the Photographic Society and appears to have busied himself working in his studios at Camden Road. On 13th January, he suffered a mortal blow with the death of his son William and this event probably hastened his own demise on 15thMay the following year.
The actual archive preserved at Birmingham comprises images both in negative form and as prints many of which were produced by Bedford senior but it is certain that a good number should be attributed to his son if not indeed to the band of workers who helped to operate the Camden Road business. Amongst these mention should be made of Robert Hayward who had worked for Bedford over a period of many years and wrote one of the obituaries of Francis. Another was George Harris who actually continued the business at Camden Road for about seven years after the death of Francis and it was probably he who co-operated with Catherall and Pritchard. The archive probably remained at Camden Road until the family finally vacated the premises in about 1933 and eventually came into the possession of the Francis Frith Company which flourished until 1972. It was from this source that Birmingham Library Services acquired the remaining archive.
Although Bedford’s published catalogue provides us with very little information about the chronology of the images it is clear that the 10x 12 plates (Bedford’s preferred size) are amongst some of theearliest taken. Other early images can be identified by a physical examination of the plates for many bear the unmistakable signs of thepaint-brush. Often the original clouds have been totally obliterated in preparation for a separate sky negative and on others the cloud formation has been markedly improved. Bedford lavished a great deal of attention on his interiors and many negatives have tissue paper pasted over given areas to hold back the light at one point and allow for greater intensity in another. A review of and exhibition in the British Journal of Photography for August 1861 draws attention to Bedford’s photograph of the South-west door of Exeter Cathedral saying that it is ‘an extraordinary photograph’ in which ‘an accidental ray lights up in a marvellous manner the internal walls’. Many such photographs are indeed marvellous but the filtered light was far more contrived than the viewer thought.
Bedford’s importance as one of England’s foremost early landscape photographers has long been recognised but it also cannot be doubted that his architectural photographs are of almost equal importance and that his interiors would be difficult to better.
From a British Council catalogue of an exhibition held by a Russian library:
Shown at the international Exhibition in 1862, this work displays the exquisite care of Bedford's approach. At first we do not notice the man leaning against the rock. Our discovery of him renews our appreciation of the scale of the surrounding terrain. Bedford chooses the 'Pre-Raphaelite' high vantage point, this being the best way to display the patterns brought about by the play of light on geological structure.
The Temple of Luxor by Francis Bedford