Francis Meadow Sutcliffe`s 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.
his father`s recovery, Francis moved to Whitby with his family as a
17-year-old in 1871 following a number of holidays in town. However,
Thomas`s 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
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.
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.”
Sutcliffe`s 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. Sutcliffe`s 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
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.
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