Category Archives: W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s

W. Smith Chemist and J. R. & D. Photographer’s opens to the public

IMG_0186After two years of hard work W. Smith’s Chemist and J. R. & D. Photographer’s finally opened to the public last month. As a team we have helped to create everything from building the walls, to constructing the roof, designing the interiors and fitting the shop front. We couldn’t be more proud of the results! You can review the whole process by clicking here.

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The Buildings Team’s group photo, taken in the studio


Throughout May we have been encouraging our visitors to smell some of the mysterious ingredients that went into Edwardian ‘cure-alls’, marvel at the gas lights and soda water machine, and dress up in the fashions of the time for their photographs. The Buildings Team worked extremely closely with our Engagement Team, who are responsible for bringing the history inside our buildings alive to our visitors.  For the first time, a team of engagers who now work in the chemist and photography studio, were involved with the installation of the objects from our collections into the new exhibits. This included cleaning hundreds of chemist items ranging from stomach pumps to electrocution machines, helping to conserve original Edwardian studio props, and cataloguing every item moved our of stores and into the building.

Cass and I in chemist

Clara, Cassie and the bump exhausted after completing the interior of the chemist.


Part of Team Chemist Paul and Jess, and student volunteer Naomi preparing objects for display.

photography studio

A family having their photograph taken in the studio.


Matthew from the Engagement Team adding the finishing touches to the aerated water manufactures

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Hannah from Team Photographer’s in the studio changing room

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The preparations are almost finished!

It’s been a busy old few months for the buildings team, with work on the Chemist’s and Photographer’s taking a lot of time and effort – in advance of the opening early in May.


Shaun’s team have finished all the external shop front, the internal counters, drug-runs, shelving, and panelling. The scaffolding came down recently and Sarah Jarman has been busy sign-writing.


Inside the Chemist the finishing touches of ‘set-dressing’ are being led by Clara, with the Aerated Waters plant and gas lighting currently undergoing their final installations.

We think you’ll agree that it’s looking fantastic!

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Colour and detail arrives at the Chemist’s

As we hurtle towards our official opening in May, paint is going on the walls, the shop front is being sign-written, and the fireplace surround has been fitted.


Sarah working on the sign-writing on the Chemist shop front

Sarah Jarman, our contract sign-writer has been working through the cold weather to bring the shop front alive. Clara and Sarah’s design for the fascia boards and wall panels are based upon shop fronts from the period. Victorian chemist shops were often very elaborate and full of advertising, intended to promote the various remedies that they sold. The windows of our Chemist’s will also be covered in raised lettering to indicate that alongside more conventional medicines, chemists and pharmacies sold photographic materials, surgical appliances and veterinary medicines.

Chemist shop front examples

Examples of  late Victorian and Edwardian Chemist shop fronts

Inside the walls of the chemist have been painted a dark red by Neil Harker, our contract painter and decorator. The colour was very popular during the mid-Victorian era following the Gothic revival, lead by architects such as Pugin.Shaun has also made a beautiful surround for the fireplace which incorporates a pair of 1840s shop corbels. The botanical carvings on the corbels compliment the painted glass Tudor roses on the shelving unit that will be fitted  and the floral motifs on the column, which has already been installed in the corner of the shop.


Shaun standing with the new fireplace surround in the Chemist


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Progress on W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s

As we head towards the opening of the Chemist and Photographer’s in late Spring, and despite the snow, the Buildings Team have begun work on installing the period fixtures and fittings that will help to bring the new exhibit to life.


Shaun standing behind the shop counter in the reception area of the Photographer’s Studio.

In the Photographer’s, Shaun and his team have nearly finished fitting the impressive mahogany panels that will form the divide between the reception and studio. The shop counter has also been installed, which  has been made from the bottom sections of more of the mahogany panels (learn more about the Joinery Team’s work on the Chemist and Photographer’s here). The panelling will also continue along the walls of the corridor of the reception up to dado rail height, with specially reproduced wallpaper above.

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The wallpaper that will be used in the Photographer’s Studio will be a reproduction of this 1907 sample.

The wallpaper is a copy of a pattern that was available to purchase from the Co-op in 1907. Clara found it in a catalogue that is in Beamish’s archives. It was chosen firstly because of its colour – ‘pea green’ was according to P. C. Duchochois’ 1891 book Lighting the Photographic Studio, a favourite with photographers due to its light reflecting qualities. It also has an Art Nouveau motif printed on it. By the early 1900s Art Nouveau had evolved from being an avant garde style, which originated in Paris to being one of the most popular and fashionable styles of the era. In contrast to the fussy foliage of William Morris-type patterns, its sinuous lines were considered to be extremely modern. This was something which a photographer, whose business relied upon fashion and up-to-date technology would probably have appreciated, and therefore we have decided to decorate the studio in the Art Nouveau style.


Paul installing the Art Nouveau fireplace in the Photographer’s studio.

With this in mind, the fireplace that Paul and his team are currently fitting in the studio with its exaggerated recessed-dome opening is in high Art Nouveau style. The wallpaper and fireplace, along with other details such as a beautiful restored gas chandelier and reclaimed early 20th century door furniture will help to make the space feel at the height of Edwardian fashion.

In contrast, the Chemist will be decorated in a much older style to reflect that it is a more established and traditional business. This means that although set in the 1910s, it will seem as if it has changed little since the 1880s, and in parts will appear to be even older, given that the building we are copying was original built during the mid-Georgian era. This means that the interior will include heavy, dark wooden shop fittings,which Shaun and his team have been restoring and resizing ready for their installation (look out for a further post with more details of this). Instead, of the stylish fireplace in the studio, the fireplace in the Chemists is a decoratively fussy, reclaimed hob-grate. When finished, the walls will be a dark ‘Pugin’ red that would have been very fashionable during the mid to late Victorian period, with reproduction ‘Anaglypta’ (or  raised textured) wallpaper on the ceiling, that will become increasingly stained by the gas lighting.


The mid-Victorian hob grate fireplace in the Chemist’s. 

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Progress of W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s


The nearly completed façade of W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s

The scaffold at W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s has been partially dropped, revealing the impressive façade for the first time.


The mahogany panels that will form the divide between the reception and studio in the Photographer’s, and which once re-glazed with fully transparent glass will allow the visitors to see the photographer at work.

Inside, the beautiful mahogany panels in the Photographic Studio are beginning to be installed. And in the Chemist, the wonderful carved column has been put in place. Although not actually structural, it is intended to help to portray the Chemist’s as much older establishment than the other buildings in the street, and hint at the original building on Elvet’s Bridge past as a Georgian inn.

Shaun and column

Shaun and the carved column in the Chemist 

At the rear of the building Paul, Cos and Kearon are busy constructing the base for the  wooden-framed conservatory, which Shaun and his team will be building. Photographic studios conventionally had a conservatory or large skylight to enable enough light for a good quality exposure. Just like ours will be, this would have been located to side of where the sitters were photographed, with the light coming from the North, to provide a constant, non-glaring light, which was best for taking photographs in.


Jim and Paul discussing the rear conservatory

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Progress at W. Smith’s

Shaun, Dan and Keith insulating the roof.

Shaun, Dan and Keith insulating the roof.

Shaun and his team have been working hard at W. Smith’s installing the windows, the timber floor of the attic, the upstairs stud walls and all of the loft insulation.

Our contractors have also been busy slating the roof and the concrete screed floor has been poured on the first floor.

All this work will allow us to get the building weather tight and the internal surfaces ready for fitting out the downstairs shop and the upstairs stores and offices.


Our contractor Daniel slating the roof.


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The interiors of W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s begin to take shape


As the second storey floor goes in and the chimney stacks are nearing completion, the interior spaces of W. Smith’s Chemist and Photographer’s are beginning to take shape.


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