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The Southwell BrothersWilliam, Frederick and Edwin Southwell were three of the London-born sons of William Southwell (1801-1880), a pianoforte maker of St. Pancras. William, who had the middle name Henry, was born in 1823, Frederick in 1833, and Edwin a few days before the end of 1840. William and Frederick initially trained to follow in their father’s footsteps. By 1841 William was employed as a piano tuner, according to the census of that year.
William next appears on the 1851 census, a twenty-six-year-old [sic] piano forte maker living with his parents at 16, Baker Street, the address that was to become the brothers' first studio when they began their photography business. Frederick, Edwin and the other children are living in another house, at 25, Gloucester Road, just to the north of Primrose Hill, on the far side of Regent’s Park. Frederick, aged 18, gave his profession as “Piano forte maker (apprentice)” and Edwin, aged 10, was still a “scholar.”
Sometime before 1861, the brothers left the family business and established themselves as photographers.
There is no sign of William on the 1861 census, but the household at 16, Baker Street is now headed by the brothers' widowed sister, Sophia Rogerson, and includes Edwin, a "Photographist". Also present is another sister, Rose Southwell. Frederick, who gave “Photographer” as his profession, was living at 45, Alma Street, Kentish Town, with his first wife, Charlotte, and their three young sons. [Charlotte must have died shortly afterwards, as Frederick remarried, on 30 August 1865 at All Souls, St. Marylebone, a widow by the name of Kate Lyon.]
The Southwell Brothers were in the news in 1862 when they brought an action against a Mr Hayward of Great Portland Street, for selling “a spurious copy” of a photograph the brothers had taken of the actress Miss Lydia Thompson. The image had been entered at Stationers’ Hall and was therefore protected by copyright. The studio’s manager, Limbord Sisman, gave evidence that he had noticed the portrait in the window of Mr Hayward’s shop and had gone in and purchased a copy for 6d. The original would have cost three times as much bought from Messrs Southwell. This was the first case under the Amended Copyright Act to appear before the courts.
In 1866 the youngest Southwell girl, Amanda, married the photographer William Elliott Debenham.
In April 1867 Southwell Brothers announced the forthcoming establishment of another London branch of the firm, scheduled to open on 1 May, at 64A, New Bond Street, on the corner of Brook Street. The other address mentioned in the advertisement is that of the studio at 22, Baker Street, so presumably by this date the premises at 16, Baker Street were no longer in use.
In 1868 the brothers copyrighted their last image, a wedding portrait of Adelina Patti, taken on the occasion of her first marriage. All in all, during the time that the firm was in existence, Southwell Brothers entered some 276 photographs at Stationers’ Hall. Except this last one of Patti, all were entered between 1862 and 1864.
William Henry Southwell died at the age of 47 on 15 September 1870, North Hall, England’s Lane, Hampstead, London. His death certificate gives as his cause of death, “Chronic disease of the heart, several years.” The informant was his father-in-law, Edward Buckingham.
The 1871 census shows the surviving brothers, Frederick and Edwin, living at 22, Baker Street, the second of the two premises that they acquired in that street and, for a while, ran concurrently as studios. Each man gave “Photographer” as his profession, so the studio was possibly still in operation. It had certainly closed by 1880, at the latest. An advertisement placed in the Times on 28 September of that year by Messrs. Boning and Small, photographers of 22, Baker Street, London, gave notice that “in consequence of numerous applications from abroad they have extended the time up to 30th November, when they propose destroying all negatives taken by their predecessors, Southwell Brothers, unless specifically instructed to the contrary.”
The 1881 census shows Frederick Southwell living at 11, Grove Place, Kensington; he now described himself as an “Artist.” He died at this address two years later, on 5 February 1883, at the age of 49. His death certificate gave the cause of death as “Sarcoma of Neck (Tumour), Cerebral Symptoms 10 days.”
Edwin Southwell died on 16 June 1882 at the house of his sister, Mrs Alfred Robins [Louisa Southwell], in the Massa Carrara region of Tuscany, in Italy. He was 41 years old. According to the announcement of his death, which appeared a few days later in the Times, the cause of death was “paralysis.”
[Contributed by Paul Frecker]