Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
Dr William Ranking Photographer
arrow gallery link Dr William Ranking (1814-1867)
Surgeon, photographer and the second President of Norwich Photographic Society

William Harcourt Ranking, MD, Cantab., first practised at Bury St. Edmunds and in 1847, early in the history of anaesthesia, he witnessed an operation at the Suffolk General Hospital to remove a breast tumour when the patient was anaesthetised with ether. In that same year he moved to Norwich and lived with his wife, Louisa, their four young daughters and six servants in 94 Upper St. Giles Street. He worked as a physician at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and by 1859 he had become Senior Physician. Following an illness in 1865, he retired.

Dr. Ranking was reported in photographic journals as active in the Norwich Photographic Society from 1855 to 1857. He gave an account of his chosen format, the waxed paper process, and showed ‘excellent views’

In the 1856 Norwich Photographic Society exhibition he showed 12 prints from wax paper negatives:
No.                       Title
7          Bishopgate Bridge, Norwich
9          Cloisters, Norwich Cathedral
21        Sandling’s Ferry, Norwich
77        On the Norwich River
103      Gateway, Castle Rising
123      Norwich, from the Railway Bridge
130      Costessey Hall
139      The Dolphin, Heigham (formerly the residence of Bishop Hall)
161      Porch, Earlham Church
228      Rustic Bridge, Cossey
229      Abbey Gate, Bury St. Edmunds
263      The Quay, Wells, Norfolk

In a review1 of the exhibition Dr. Ranking’s work was cited.

‘With these, and possibly a few other exceptions, the Norwich amateurs have exhibited works done from waxed paper negatives. Dr. Ranking has many specimens by this process, which display alike artistic and photographic skill. Take for example the ‘Rustic Bridge, Cossey’, the ‘Porch, Earlham Church,’ and the ‘Norwich from the Railway Bridge.’

In November 1857 he was elected second president of the NPS, showed some stereoscopic pictures ‘printed on waxed paper’ [sic] and ‘… and the President [Dr. Ranking] handed round a magnificent picture of the Cloisters of Norwich Cathedral by Ackland’s process2, photographed by himself’.   There is little doubt that the original photograph of ‘Cloisters’ reproduced in the Gallery, is the one laid down in an album titled ‘Photographic Views of Norfolk’ in the collection held by the Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service. Most images in the Gallery, however, are tentatively attributed to Ranking on the basis of their subject matter, format, visual properties and their close positioning in this same album.

Sources and Notes

  1. Norfolk News, 1856 and 1857. Notices of the exhibition were published on 6th, 13th and 20th December 1856 and 3rd January 1857.

  2. Ackland, William The Collodio-Albumen Process, Photographic Journal, 3 (1856): pp106-9 and

Ranking was active in many fields; he translated ‘Lugol on Scrofula’, lectured on diphtheria, was co-editor for many years of Ranking’s ‘Abstract of the Medical Sciences’, physician to the Norwich Infirmary for the Blind, a partner in Heigham Hall private Lunatic Society, a director of Norwich Union Life Assurance Society and a member of the Botanical Society of London.