Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
William Sedgefield Photographer
Samuel Smith William Sedgefield Self portrait
Albumen print, 1850s

arrow gallery link William Russell Sedgfield (1826 – 1902)
Wood Engraver and Photographer

Born in Devizes, Wiltshire, William Russell Sedgfield became an engraver for Punch by the age of 18 but his main career was in photography. In 1842, when he was only 16, he had applied to Henry Talbot for a calotype licence but was shocked to receive a demand for £20 from Talbot’s solicitor1. Rather than pay, he decided on the risky course of continuing without a licence. He moved to London and by 1854 Samuel Highley, a London publisher, was offering for sale Sedgfield’s photographs and especially his folios entitled  ‘Photographic Delineations of the Scenery, Architecture, and Antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland’. It was issued in four parts, the first two with photographs of East Anglian architecture. The albumen prints, measuring about 25 x 20 cm (10 x 8 inches), were laid down on card and titled in pencil in the lower margin.

Part I
The Norman Tower, Bury St. Edmunds
The Abbey Gate, Bury St. Edmunds        
The South Transept of Norwich Cathedral
The West Front of Binham Priory
Part of the Cloisters of Norwich Cathedral
Precinct Gate, Norwich

Part II
Norman Tower, Bury St. Edmunds (No.2)
St. Mary’s Church, Bury St. Edmunds
St. Benedict’s Abbey, Norfolk
Part of Binham Priory, Norfolk
The Bishop’s Bridge, Norwich
Walsingham Abbey

Notes and Queries2 reviewed this work commenting on ‘… such truthful, yet artistic pictures,…’

He became a member of the Norwich Photographic Society and his frequent contributions to exhibitions3 included many photographs taken in East Anglia, such as:

Subject Negative
Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk Waxed-paper
Part of Norwich Cathedral. Waxed-paper
A Frame containing Four Subjects:  
Two Views East Barsham Manor House, Norfolk. Waxed-paper
One of the Rectory, Hadleigh Waxed-paper
Precinct Gateway Waxed-paper
St. Michael’s Coslany, Coslany Street. Waxed-paper
Norwich: The Cloisters Waxed-paper
Norwich: The Free Grammar School Waxed-paper
Bishop’s Bridge Norwich Waxed-paper
Views of Cambridge  (probably Collodion)
Views of Ely Cathedral  (probably Collodion)
Views of Great Yarmouth (probably Collodion)
Views of Peterborough (probably Collodion)

His stereoscopic photographs from the mid-1850s to the early 1860s were published mainly by Alfred W. Bennet, of London, and the London Stereoscopic Company. ‘Sedgfield’s English Scenery’ and ‘Sedgfield’s Welsh Scenery’ series, were issued between 1855 and 1856. The index numbers associated with his stereographs run to over 800 and his Norfolk images may be found in the 400s4. He made several stereographs of Castle Acre Priory, Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle but only one or two of St. Peter Mancroft Church, St. Stephen’s Church, Norwich Grammar School, Bishop’s Bridge, Erpingham Gate and the Precinct Gate5.

Throughout his long career he contributed to the photographic journals and his photographs were used to illustrate a number of books6.

Sedgfield married Elizabeth Knight in 1857 and they had two daughters.

Sources and Notes

  1. Knight, Frederick Hardwicke. Sedgfield. The Life and Work of William Russell Sedgfield, Pioneer Photographer. Otago: University of Otago, 1998. 2 vols., limited to 200 copies.

  2. Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, etc.. London: George Bell [Ed.]
    This review - 23rd December, 1854.

  3. Taylor, Roger. Photographs Exhibited in Britain 1839 - 1865. A Compendium of Photographers and their Works. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2002

  4. Private communication.

  5. ‘The Precinct Gate, Norwich’ is an uncommon title these days for what was formerly known as Sandling’s Ferry and, since the 19th century, as Pull’s Ferry after the ferryman James Pull. It marks the place where Caen stone (and other materials) used for the construction of the cathedral, was ferried by canal from the river Wensum to the construction site.  The water-gate building was erected later, in the 15th century. 

  6. Howitt, William and Mary. Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain… London: Alfred W. Bennet, 1862.

    Howitt, William and Mary. The Wye. Its Ruined Abbeys and Castles.  London: Alfred W. Bennet, 1863.

    Unger, Franz Joseph Andrews. Ideal Views of the Primitive World: In its Geological and Palaeontological Phases. London: Taylor & Francis, 1863.

    Howitt, William. The Thames Illustrated by Photographs. From Richmond to Cliefden. Russell Sedgfield, Photographer. “Series I”. London: A. Marion, Son & Co., 1866.

    Howitt, William. The Thames Illustrated by Photographs. Cookham to Whitchurch. Russell Sedgfield, Photographer. “Series II”. London: A. Marion, Son & Co., 1867.