Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
John Middleton Photographer
John Middleton Portrait
Daguerreotypist unknown
Portrait of John Middleton
Daguerreotype, circa 1850
[Norfolk Castle Museum]
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John Middleton (1827-1856)

Artist and photographer

John Middleton, born in Norwich, the son of John Middleton a Norwich plumber, glazier, painter and glass stainer, was taught by two painters of the Norwich School of Artists; first, by John Berney Ladbrooke at school and later, in London, by Henry Bright.  Bright was a major influence on Middleton’s style such that their works are often difficult to tell apart. Many of Middleton’s watercolours are dated 1847 and in that year he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy. Thereafter he exhibited at the RA and the British Institute until 1855. Andrew Moore writes1 that Middleton was artistically precocious, reaching his maturity at 20 years of age and that his body of wash drawings reveal him as one of the finest exponents of the English water colour tradition.

Middleton was a sometime2 committee member of the Norwich Photographic Society and was befriended by a wealthy landowner, William Bolding, resident at Weybourne in north Norfolk, perhaps eliciting his patronage. They were certainly close and sketched together. Middleton had a liking for river scenes, rocks and dry river-beds and his painterly eye can be seen at work in the few of his photographs which have survived. Bolding, on the other hand, devoted a great deal of time to photography and produced some very fine portraits of his estate workers and family [see Bolding].

During a visit to north Wales circa 1850, Middleton took photographs and copies of some are shown here. It’s interesting that he seems not to have made any paintings resulting from his visit. The photographs are salted paper prints on very thin paper, with no visible watermark, made from paper negatives.  Middleton’s monogram ‘JM’ is written in the negative in the lower left or right of the image. The copies in the Gallery have been made from the original prints in the collection of the Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service and the titles are attributed by the writer.

Middleton lived in London during 1847 and 1848, returning to Norwich in 1849 to live at 63 St. Stephen’s Street and from 1852 moved to Surrey Street, Norwich, where he died of consumption at the early age of 29.

He wrote to William Bolding sometime in 1854 or 1855:

Surrey Street


My Dear Sir

Enclosed is a note from Owen3 about the Great Ex. series of pictures - you will see by this he will charge you 2/6 each taking the series – I think this rather high but I suppose it does not answer his purpose to do them for less – you will send me a line if you wish to have them and I will write to Owen – or I can send you his address and you can correspond with him.
The Photographic Society met on Friday night and I enroled [sic]you as a Member and paid five shillings – eighteen members have joined and there appears every chance of success – I am one of the Committee – therefore can tell you of our proceedings.
I succeeded in obtaining the rare fern – the Cristata from Surlingham and have potted a plant for you, that you may know it if you succeed in finding it at Edgefield Heath near Holt. I shall be glad to hear you have found it as the localities are not numerous.
Your coat is come from Theobalds but I thought I would keep it until the box came from (?) Acton. Muskett 4 has no more Cossey5 views – but will order some. I told him nothing but the best impressions would do.
I am serious by contemplating a green house & ferning and have decided on reflection of the fern fever.

Remember me to all at home who I hope are well.  Respectfully

Yours very truly

John Middleton

W J J Bolding Esq.

Sources and Notes

  1. Moore, Andrew.The Norwich School of Artists, Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service, 1985.
  2. See the letter written above from Middleton to Bolding. Letter from a private collection.
  3. Possibly Hugh Owen (1808-1897), a founding member of the (London) Photographic Society.
  4. Charles Muskett, bookseller of Haymarket, Norwich.
  5. ossey or Costessey Hall, just west of Norwich, the home of Lord  Stafford (Jerningham).