Francis Frith, Manchester & the Business of Art

Francis Frith (1822 –1898) was an English photographer who captured images of many towns in the United Kingdom but is also renowned for his early images of the Middle East. Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire he was a very successful business man, working in the grocery business and in printing. In 1850 he started a photographic studio in Liverpool, known as Frith & Hayward and became a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society. In the mid-1850s Frith sold his other business interests in order to devote himself entirely to photography. He first travelled to the Middle East in 1856 and the images from this and two further trips established his reputation as an outstanding photographer. The trips were not only artistically but also commercially successful earning Frith a small fortune.

Francis Frith
Francis Frith, via Wikimedia Commons

Fired by his success, in 1859 Frith decided to create a new business; F. Frith & Co. Initially, he took all the photographs himself, but as success came he hired people to help him and set about establishing a firm that became one of the largest photographic studios in the world. In fact, you can still purchase Frith’s images today from the Francis Frith archive.

Our newly catalogued Visual Collections album of ‘Manchester’ by Francis Frith & Co. is dated c1870s, so it is likely that it represents the work of a number of photographers rather than a set of images shot by Frith alone. It is a set of 31 Albumen prints of the city and shows the Gothic grandeur of a booming Victorian city. Some of the beautiful buildings are still very much recognisable Manchester landmarks, such as the stunning Alfred Waterhouse Town Hall, the Cathedral and the Royal Exchange.

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Some buildings such as the Manchester Assize Courts (another Alfred Waterhouse masterpiece) and the Victoria buildings were destroyed beyond repair during the Second World War. However, a good number more of these iconic buildings were extensively damaged during the 1940’s Blitz, and rebuilt after the war, including the Cathedral and the Royal Exchange. Additionally, the Exchange was bomb damaged for a second a time in the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester.

Manchester Assize Courts c1870s

Just one of the prints is of a University building; there is an image of Owen’s College, now the John Owen’s building which is part of the quadrangle of University of Manchester buildings on Oxford Road. Sadly, our own John Rylands Library is notably absent; not yet built in the 1870s.

Owen’s College

However, another Oxford Road icon is represented. The Church of the Holy Name just opposite the University has a number of prints in the album, but you will notice that the church is slighter shorter than the building we recognise today as it is wanting its full tower, which was added in the 1920s.

The Church of the Holy name of Jesus

Enjoy seeing the full album or viewing the individual prints with detailed descriptions in our online image Collection.

If you can’t wait for the next blog, do follow Library Tammy on IG for updates on what goes on in the Visual Collections office here at The John Rylands Library.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Heritage Imaging team.

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2 comments on “Francis Frith, Manchester & the Business of Art

  1. Thanks for posting these – Frith’s photographs are always worth seeing and the images of the Holy Name are much earlier that the others I’ve seen from the Frith Collection.

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