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WHITBY

Frank Meadow Suttcliffe

Photographer

 


Born October 1853 in Headingley, Leeds and died May 31 1941 in Sleights, Whitby. 

Francis Meadow Sutcliffes father Thomas Sutcliffe, was a member of "The Institute of Painters in Water Colours", though he saw a great future in photography and likely owned his first camera in Leeds. This at a time when many painters were concerned about the onset of the new art of photography, fearing they would lose work, or even that painting would die out as a result. Sadly illness struck Thomas and Francis was forced to leave school at 14 and work as a clerk.

Upon his fathers recovery, Francis moved to Whitby with his family as a 17-year-old in 1871 following a number of holidays in town. However, Thomas untimely death months later at the age of 43 prompted Francis to develop the hobby his father suggested into a full-time job. Although his mother Sarah did once threaten to smother him in infancy if he ever became an artist. An unsuccessful time as a portrait photographer in Tunbridge Wells, Kent followed but Sutcliffe was soon back in Whitby, living in Broomfield Terrace. He then moved to Sleights and married Eliza Weatherill-Duck, the daughter of a local bootmaker, on 1 January 1875.

His first studio was a vacant jet shop in Waterloo Yard, Flowergate. However, in 1894, he moved to a better facility at 25 Skinner Street. The first-floor studio was described as ‘one of the largest and best lighted in England’ in an 1895 advert. Francis Meadow Sutcliffe was an English pioneering photographic artist whose work presented an enduring record of life in the seaside town of Whitby, England, and surrounding areas, in the late Victorian era and early 20th century.

Due to the short holiday season and long winters, Sutcliffe’s genius was to become an expert on all around him photographing all four seasons in Whitby and district. Many of his works were shot in winter with the atmosphere of smoke and mist prevalent to give a unique, moody flavour. He wrote in May 1894: “We all know snow turns the most commonplace materials into the most fairy, like a shower of rain, or a fog, even those nasty choky town fogs, but especially a sea fog or mountain mist, which improve the complexion and soften the skin in a most delightful manner will do as the snow does, and transform a common-place subject into a rare one.”

Sutcliffes equipment ranged from the cumbersome brass and mahogany full plate camera, with their wet collodion process of the late nineteenth century, to the hand held bellows type of camera, of this century, using celluloid negatives. The Sutcliffe gallery in Flowergate, Whitby, publish several volumes of his images and can be purchased by the visitor to Whitby.

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe started his photographic career using wet collodion in 1875, but soon turned towards the dry plates. He followed in the wake of Emerson, whose fame lies in the photographing of Whitby scenes. Sutcliffes most famous picture image, called " Water Rats " causing considerable wrath of the Whitby church and clergy for displaying such work as they thought it would corrupt the opposite sex. It is said, that they excommunicated Sutcliffe for exhibiting what they felt to be indecent. By the same contrast to these clergy, the Prince of Wales who later to become Edward VII, purchased the very same image.

Sutcliffe was a prolific writer on photographic subjects, contributing to several periodicals. He wrote a regular column in the Yorkshire Weekly Post and his work can be seen in the collection of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society in the town. Sutcliffe retired from the photographic world he loved so much in 1922, but remained a curator of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society from 1923 until shortly before his death. The Society still operates today.

Sutcliffe retired in 1922, becoming curate of Whitby Museum. He kept bees, was a keen gardener and brought in a Swedish architect to construct a state-of-the-art home on Carr Hill Lane in Sleights, with under-floor heating.  It’s gratifying to know that unlike many artists, Sutcliffe was able to reap the financial rewards of his work while still alive. He sold his original works in 1920 to fund his retirement. The workaholic photographer oversaw the landmark move from the Whitby Museum Library and Public Baths on Pier Road to its current home at Pannett Park.

Sutcliffe’s fame outside the Whitby area is sometimes understated, but he was world-famous winning 60 gold, silver and bronze medals for his work, across Europe, the United States and Japan. The Royal Photographic Society made Sutcliffe an honorary fellow in 1935.  The highest photographic distinction possible in England.

Sutcliffe was also a prolific writer for Amateur Photography, a publication still running today. He once remarked in one of his many columns that he wished he was born 40 years later so he could have taken advantage of improving the camera technology. He would’ve been a conservationist, Mr Shaw suggests. “He didn’t like the onset of steam over sail and he had very strong views on that. I think he would be proud of what he left behind and the interest his photographs generate. He must have gained a lot of respect to get people from those times to pose for him.

In Victorian Britain, photography was becoming very fashionable, however it was mostly among the very rich. Sutcliffe provided a unique opportunity for ordinary working people to get the same attention. Sutcliffe was arguably in both categories. He died in 1941, aged 87 and is buried in Aislaby churchyard. He had three daughters and one son. He also leaves behind an astonishing 160-year legacy that will live on many years to come.

 
                         
  Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Folk   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Harbour   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Ship at Bogg Hall   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby 1890   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby 1862   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Stern  
  Whitby Folk   Whitby Pier   Ship at Bogg Hall   Whitby Street 1890   Whitby East Side   Whitby gathering  
                         
  Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Station Square   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Herring Boats   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Waterats   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Steamships   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Harbour   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Harbour Entrance  
  Whitby Station   Whitby herring boats   Waterats 1886   Whitby Steamers   Whitby Sail Boats   Whitby Piers  
                         
  Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Eastside   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Harry Freeman   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Yard   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Fishergirl   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Polly Swallow   Frank Meadow Sutcliffe - Whitby Fishermen  
  Whitby Eastside   Harry Freeman   Whitby Yard   Fisher girl   Polly Swallow   Whitby Fishermen  
                         
 

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