Stories for the Chemist and Photographer’s

Long before we began building the Chemist and Photographer’s, along with Lindsay Curry our Head of Engagement, we started looking for some stories of Edwardian Chemists and Photographers in the North East that we could base the interior and stories of our shop on. We knew that Chemists and Photographers often had a close relationship, but have been surprised to find no recorded instances in the North East of a business being both a Chemist and a Photographer’s studio. We have however, found plenty of examples of Photographer’s Studios, and Chemists selling photographic equipment alongside medical supplies. There a few names that have particularly relevant stories:

A temporary recreation of the interior of a Chemist's Shop in the early days of the Museum

A temporary recreation of the interior of a Chemist’s Shop in the early days of the Museum.

William Smith

Mr William Smith was a Chemist in the early 20th Century who based in Durham City, initially on Crossgate Peth and later on Silver Street. William was a Chemist’s assistant in 1891, and by 1901 is registered as a Chemist. It’s unknown where he learnt his trade, but the remarkable record we have from his prescription books show that he is making a variety of recipes using a variation of the (by 1901) relatively antiquated ‘apothecary’s system’ of weights and measures. These prescription books, alongside some accounts books (both held at the Durham Record Office) give us an incredible record of the concoctions Smith is creating, as well as the kind of equipment he was buying.

George Fillingham and Mason & Co. Ltd

Whilst we don’t know of any Chemists who also have photography businesses, we have found a 1911 record of a Photographer – George T Fillingham who is at 69a Saddler Street, right next door to a chain of Chemists – Mason & Co. Ltd, who are at number 69.

The interior of Edis' Photography Shop in the early 1920s.

The interior of Edis’ Photography Shop in the early 1920s.

John Edis

The best recorded Photographer we’ve discovered is John Reed Edis, who, along with his daughter Daisy, ran a very successful Photographic studio on Saddler Street. Daisy began helping her father aged 13 in 1901 and went on to become a well-known photographer herself. We have Oral History recordings from a number of other female Photographers and Photographer’s Assistants from this time, including Thelma Watts and Clara Bolam (née Thomas), demonstrating women’s involvement in the industry. A number of the photographs taken by the Edis family have been cataloged and are available to view online via Durham University.

The introduction to Charles Nicol's advertising booklet from 1904

The introduction to Charles Nicol’s advertising booklet from 1904.

Charles Nicol

In the Beamish Collection we have a large number of photographs associated with an early 20th Century Photographer based in Newcastle – Charles Nicol. Nicol was from a wealthy family and established his business in his home in South Gosforth in 1900. His photographs include an image of a circus parade including more than a dozen elephants marching through central Newcastle, as well as a shot of the world-famous operatic tenor Enrico Caruso outside Central Station.


One of two Chemist’s shops Beamish collected in the early days of the Museum, Hallaway’s of Carlisle was run by John Hallaway and his son Robert, as a fantastic example of a Victorian Chemist.

Interior of Walker's Chemist

Interior of Walker’s Chemist.

Hardcastle and Sons

The second Chemist’s shop in the Beamish collection, Hardcastle’s of Stockton was famed for their secret recipe – the ‘Balm of Gilead’ – a great example of individual Chemists creating their own remedies. Hardcastle’s also had a link with the famous John Walker – inventor of the friction match – whose stock and effects were removed to Hardcastle’s shop upon Walker’s retirement in 1858.

J Gilpin and W Owen

An diversification of many Chemists was into the production of Aerated Waters, many had small back-room manufacturing plants, but some, including J Gilpin of 56 Pilgrim Street engaged with mineral water production on a considerable scale. W Owen was another such Chemist. In 1894 his second shop at Barras Bridge had a large mineral water factory behind it.  Here, in the 1920s a citrus flavored energy-drink containing glucose, known as ‘Lucozade’ was prepared.

Contact us…

We’re still pulling together stories for the Chemist and Photographer’s, so if you have any memories you’d like to contribute, please do add comments, or contact our Community Participation Team via the Museum Switchboard on 0191 370 4000.


Leave a comment

Filed under Collections, W. Smith's Chemist and Photographer's

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s