BY Ron Dale

In Kelly’s Directory of 1902 is listed the very first photographic studio in Stanstead Abbotts (and probably the last) in the name of Thomas Robinson. He was probably in the village a year or two before this date and unfortunately we do not know where his studio was.   It must be assumed that it was somewhere in the High Street as it would not do much business elsewhere. At this time portrait photographs were produced on thick card with ornate advertising on the reverse, usually mentioning the photographer’s name and address, and any found in the village from Mr. Robinson’s studio would be a very useful discovery for our archives. The smaller size was known as the carte de visite size (visiting card, about 2ins. x 3.5 ins.) and the cabinet size. (Usually slightly larger than a postcard). These portrait photographs were taken in the studio shop and spurred the production of the thick, heavily bound ornate Victorian photo albums with slots cut out to accept both these sizes.

     There are a few Victorian and turn-of-the century family photographs knocking about the village, but all those seen have been copies of the original.  Somewhere in some hidden box in someone’s attic may be original photos from the camera of our Mr. Robinson. Also some people collect old photographs of this period to study fashion styles and for other social history reasons.

     We know a little more about our first village photographer. His full name was Thomas Stimpson Robinson , born 1856 in Bedford.   He was married to Anne of Bishops Stortford (born 1851) and they had two sons and two daughters. His first studio was at 185/187 Homerton High Street, Hackney which he named Camera House.  He was in business there from 1895 to 1931.  He then operated from no.185 until his death in 1941. He was additionally working as a photographer in Horsham, Sussex in 1881. He was in Stanstead Abbotts only for a short time, from about 1900 to 1902 as far as we know, obviously on a part-time basis. On the other hand he may have had relatives in the village and tried to expand his Hackney business.(There were Robinsons living here at this time).  He died at Hackney in 1941. If anyone has any copies of Mr. Robinson’s photographs we would be pleased to hear.

We have news from Stuart Moye, a man who knows more about the history of our village and its people than anyone I know, that there are two or possibly three photographs of the 1903 flood which were taken by Mr. Robinson. It was the custom for local photographers to sell copies immediately after any flood, fire or accident to local people in the Edwardian period before people were able to buy the new invention of a portable camera. which came later.

A photo on card by T S Robinson.

Courtesy of Brian and Jenny Johnson

7” x  4”

Click to enlarge


     After extensive research I have been unable to find any record of T. S. Robinson ever living in Stanstead Abbotts. Nevertheless he had Camera House here on our High Street and his name and autograph were on all the pictures produced from his studio there. Who then took all the pictures, including the flood pictures of 1903?

     At this stage, our web-site manager Brian Johnson, forever helpful, entered the search. He found on the High Street census for 1901 was a man named William Walter Hughes with the profession of photographer. No house number was given. Hughes was born in Oxford in 1846 and his wife, Emily Jane, born 1852 in London. They had a son and three daughters. This man had been a photographer most of his life as his career biography found by Brian (on photoLondon) was as follows:

1871 He was at 26 Glasshouse Street, Regent Street, Westminster. Here he was described as a lodger, photographer and a dealer. In 1881 he was at 122 St. Mary’s Drive, Camberewell, described as photographer’s manager. In 1883-88 he was at 111 Grove Lane, Camberwell, described as a photographer. By 1891 he was a photographer at 10 Lansdowne Road, Tottenham. There is no further record of him after this, not even at Stanstead Abbotts. However, we know he was at Stanstead on our High Street from about 1900 or a little earlier up to at least 1914, the last mention in Kelly’s. By this time Mr. Hughes was 68 years old.  It seems certain that he was the photographer for our village and not Thomas Robinson as the facts initially suggested and that he was the studio manager. William Hughes died in 1917 in Ware, presumably in hospital.

     The discovery of the existence of a photographic studio in our village has been very interesting and has involved two other people besides myself. The amazing point in research is that when you discover a piece of information, you are immediately besieged by a barrage of questions you did not expect to have to answer. All part of the buzz from researching! I have a feeling that we have not yet heard the last of Mr. Robinson and Mr. Hughes...