Remembering famous faces

BLUE plaques placed by the Ipswich Society can be seen on several buildings in the town today. They locate buildings and sites where the goods and the greats of the past were either born, or later in their life, lived in the town.

BLUE plaques placed by the Ipswich Society can be seen on several buildings in the town today.

They locate buildings and sites where the goods and the greats of the past were either born, or later in their life, lived in the town.

There is one in Foundation Street, close to where artist Thomas Gainsborough lived from 1752-1759, another on The Manor House for Nathaniel Bacon town recorder and parliamentarian who lived there from 1642 to 1660. Robert Ransome who founded his engineering company in St Margaret's Ditches, now Old Foundry Road, has a plaque there. There are seven of these sites around the town centre. I could suggest a couple more. They are the premises and homes of photographers (who says I am biased?).

Much of our understanding of life from in the town from the past comes from photographs. Photography was patented in 1839, but most of the early work was studio portrait based as glass, water and chemicals had to be carried with huge wooded cameras to any location. It was the 1880s when commercially produced dry plate film became available photographers started to take more location photographs.

Two names I think could be worthy of 'Blue Plaque' recognition are Harry Walters and William Vick. Harry worked from his home and studio at 11 St Margaret's Plain. He lived there with his wife Annie and children Harold, Charles, Elsie, Bertha, Winifred and Jack.

His fine red brick building is still there close to the Bethesda Church. Harry set up in business there in around 1892 taking thousands of portraits in a glasshouse studio at the bottom of his garden. He also recorded events and views in the town many of which were used by post-card publishers. He was also an entertainer appearing as Harry Wilmott sometimes as part of a group known as the Snowflake Minstrels. He had a sense of fun and mischief with his trick photography. When Queen Victoria's statue was being built in front of Christchurch Mansion Harry had his picture taken on the plinth before the huge bronze was put on top. He produced hand out photographs saying 'Harry Wilmot as he appeared before the Queen'. Harry ran the business with the help of some of his children until his death in 1926.

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In the late 1980s I saw an elderly gentleman standing at the door of the house as I passed so I asked him if there was anything left of Harry's time there, he told me he had bought the house from the family in the 1920s. He took me through to the garden where there was still a mound of earth where thousands of glass negatives had been buried. It seemed so sad that so much high quality work had been destroyed.

Luckily many of Harry's images have survived and members of his family have treasured his photographs. I am grateful to Barbara Cutting of Stowmarket, one of his relatives, who loaned me some of Harry Walters prints for readers of Kindred Spirits to enjoy.

William Vick is possibly better known because his glass negatives survived and are now with the Suffolk Record Office. He worked from premises at the junction of Clarkson Street and London Road. The building is still there and is presently a beauty salon.

Around 1890 William published a series of splendid leather bound books of photographs 'Ipswich Past and Present' several copies are still around today.

He retired after about 30 years in business in around 1899 and moved to Raynes Park, London. He died in April 1911.

What do you think we learn from the work of Harry Walters and William Vick? Do you have any family connections to either? Write to Dave Kindred, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN.

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