Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
John Miles Photographer
arrow gallery link John Miles (1818 - 1891)
Banker’s clerk and photographer

In 1845, White’s Directory lists John Augustus Miles living in Broad Street, Fakenham and employed as a banker’s clerk. He later became chief cashier, a well remunerated position, at Gurneys’ bank. In the 1851 Census he’s listed married to Harriet, a schoolmistress, resident in Oak Street and living with them, a young, female school assistant, four teen-aged female pupils and two female house servants. The photograph in the Gallery by Miles of the National School for Girls, which opened in 1848 on the Wells Road in Fakenham, is indicative of his interest. In 1794, Ann Harrison bequeathed a yearly dividend from her investments to include £10 to a schoolmistress, for instructing eight poor girls. A Mrs. Miles, listed in White’s 1854 Directory under Academies, is resident at Norwich Road, Fakenham.

Modern photographs reveal the Victorian restoration and alterations made by Charlotte Boyd Pearson in the 1890s, to what is often now known as the Slipper Chapel at Houghton St. Giles. Originally built in the 15th century, it is the central focus in the Catholic church's National Shrine of Our Lady complex on the outskirts of Walsingham, where Miles lived. 

In 1855 Miles wrote to the editor of the Photographic Journal1 saying claims made for the calotype process by Thomas Sutton in a new publication2, were incorrect. Sutton, he said, had claimed the calotype process was more forgiving to exposure times and was ‘peculiarly adapted to the tourist.’ Writing as a practitioner of the waxed-paper and collodion processes, Miles argued the case for the waxed-paper process, especially as its sensitised negative remained so at least a week longer than that of the calotype, which had to be used on the same day as its sensitisation. He concluded his letter with effusive praise for a new manual of Photographic Chemistry by Thomas Hardwich.

In 1855, Miles compiled and published ‘A Collection of Problems in Chess’3 which he funded by subscription. There were 13 subscribers including Thomas Damant Eaton, Norwich; George Fitt, Norwich; Miss Fitt, Bixley Hall, and J. W. Miles, Stoke Holy Cross. The hardback book comprises illustrations of chess-boards with pieces in place and the problems stated by ‘The Most Eminent Composers’ from around the world. As Eaton, Fitt and Miles were members of the Norwich Photographic Society this is yet another social link in the chain.

In October 1857 Thomas Eaton gave notice to the Norwich Photographic Society that Mr. Miles would at the next meeting, read a paper on ‘collodio-albumen’. There seems to be no record of his paper and although he didn’t publicly exhibit his photographs, the few examples in the Norfolk  County  council Library and Information Service collection show him to be a talented, if somewhat formal, photographer.

Sources and Notes

  1. The Photographic Journal. [Ed. A. Henfrey]. London: Taylor & Francis, 1855. Letter, May, 1855.
  2. The title, not stated, was possibly ‘The Calotype Process. A Hand Book to Photography on Paper’. London: Joseph Cundall, 1855
  3. Private communication, Harald E. Balló. [www.ballo.de/index. html]