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The Scarborough Studio

Sarony's Scarborough Studio
During the first half of 1856 Oliver spent a season in Norwich. The Norfolk Chronicle 9th August 1856 reported  “Mr Sarony is on the eve of leaving this city for Scarborough where he is erecting (as can be seen by the engraving in his window) a very splendid building to be used as a photographic institution.”


A print exists which may be the illustration which is referred to in the Norfolk Chronicle article. Although it has been published in the local Scarborough newspapers, the quality of the image was not so good so Samantha Burrow has kindly redrawn it for us and this new version is the one that is shown here.


The building at the front of the picture is Oliver’s magnificent purpose built studio but there is a second building in the picture and this is also of interest. The second building was constructed in 1856 and still stands today. This is the building in fact where Oliver set up his first studio in Scarborough in 1857, and was described as his Alfred Street studio.  Alfred Street was the street separating  the two buildings. The street was later renamed St Martin’s Avenue. The building is decorated with stone carvings, said to be the heads of the artists who worked for Sarony and one of them may well be Sarony himself.


After his first season in Alfred Street Scarborough Oliver spent the winter of 1857/8 in Newcastle and returned to Scarborough during the summer of 1858 but this time to his new studio. It was reported that the Alfred Street studio was unsuitable and that he had built a superior premise with a large studio where he could take full length portraits without distortion.  

Stone heads of Saronys artists
This photo is looking down Alfred Street (now St Martin’s Avenue) showing the building with the stone carvings on the right hand side. The artists still look down on passers by. The building is currently used as flats but at one time it was used as a hotel, The Fairview Hotel and Anns Garden Restaurant.

The Scarborough Studio.

The new studio building was designed by local architects John and David  Petch. The parcel of land on which it was built was bought by Oliver from the South Cliff Company. The intention of course was to build a photographic studio but just in case Oliver had other things in mind in the conveyance there was a covenant which set out various restrictions as to what he could do with the building and how the property was to be maintained. The building had to be in keeping with properties close by, it could not be extended any higher than its original design. The grounds had to be fenced off with iron palisadoes (iron railing to you and me) no higher than five feet six inches and the exterior walls had to be covered with stucco and painted the same colour as the stonework. There were also restrictions in the buildings use. It could not be used as an Inn, Public House or Beer house, or permit or suffer the trade of Butcher, Baker or Tallow Chandler (Candle stick maker) or any noisy noisome offensive or dangerous trade. It could not be used as a lodging or boarding house. 1 

Sarony Scarborough
The building was 153 ft by 66 ft and was surrounded by landscaped gardens with 'a well kept lawn decked with flower beds and intersected by brown gravel walks'. 2  There were a number of entrances but it appears that the main entrance was from the East side which is now Oliver Street. The broad staircase leading to the entrance was guarded by two stone lions rampant. The building was painted white with cream coloured corner stones (1882) and consisted of a basement, a ground floor, an upper floor and a series of attic rooms. Various accounts describe the inside of the building which was said to be designed in the Louise XIV style. The building was modified over the years and consisted of two parts, one named Gainsborough House and the other Vandyke House, but from the outside the building appeared as one. An old ordinance survey plan of the area reveals that Gainsborough House was the part nearest to St Martin's Church and was built as a domestic residence. In 1861 Elizabeth was staying at Carlisle House in Sarony Square and presumably Oliver was over in Belfast. By 1871 they were both in Scarborough living at Sarony House which could possibly have been Gainsborough House under a different name. Elizabeth was described as a Cashier and Jenny Sarony, Napoleon's daughter, who was living with them was described as an Artist. There was also a cook, a housemaid and a serving maid.

The photo right is of the studio with St Martin's Church in the background and St Martin's Avenue (formally Alfred Street) in the foreground. The view is looking North West. Thanks to Michael Bortoft for providing this photo. The image below is of the studio and was printed on the back of one of Sarony's Carte De Visites. Courtesy of Ron Cosens. The card is dated 1862.

Saronys Studio
The following description of the building is drawn from three accounts. An article in the Scarborough Gazette in 1869 entitled A Mornings Lounge at Scarborough, A description of the studio in the book Photographic Studios of Europe written in 1882 and  the book The Making of English Photographic Allegories 3 which refers to articles in The Photographic News 1868.

The principal rooms were the Entrance and Vestibule where visitors would be met by Oliver or Elizabeth or one of the managers, there was also a Drawing room which was 50 ft by 33 ft, A Gallery known as the Wellington Gallery, the studios themselves and at one stage there were four, the painting rooms, the enlarging room,and the workshops where all manner of photographic processes were carried out. At the entrance to the building there was a huge tabular statement listing all the rooms and above each of the doors to the rooms were guilt letters proclaiming their usage. There were approximately forty rooms in use and in 1869 about fifty employees. Some were paid £500 to £600 pounds per year and one was paid in excess of £1,000. One would assume that this was Thomas Jones Barker but it may not have been. Thomas's painting entitled The Charge of the Light Brigade was displayed in the Gallery and another 'The Allied Generals of Sebastapol' had been engraved and was extensively sold by Messrs Graves of Pall Mall.

As one passed through the entrance and vestibule on the left was a room where 'fair fingers' were engaged in dispatching the work from the previous day and immediately on the right was the business department where an example of every form of portrait could be seen. The charges were one guinea for either five plain photographs or four vignette or enameled portraits. To produce a vignette a mask was used which consisted of a piece of thin cardboard the size of the printing frame. It had a pear shaped opening the size of the bust or figure and around its circumference punched holes all of the same size. This was then positioned on top of the printing frame, being about half an inch above the negative and so diffused is the light that passes the mask that a most delicate graduation is produced. 

On the right were also reception and waiting rooms decorated and finished in the style of a French Salon. These rooms were fitted out with mirrors, gilded tables and pictures adorned every wall. Beyond the rooms were two studios which were separated by a wall and dark room so the photographer could work both. The cameras, if the wall hadn't been there, would have been back to back. The studios were low roofed, sombre and cool and were painted in a French Grey. The top light was controlled by a form of Venetian blind. A study of the Ordnance Survey plan and this description would suggest that these two studios were an extension built on the Northern side of the main building. Because of the advantages of avoiding direct sunlight a north facing studio was the preferred arrangement. On the light side of each studio curtains were drawn from the end of the studio to be in line with the sitter and the next six to eight feet of glass was covered with gauze. Backgrounds were used but these were drawn up from the floor.

To be continued...

Whimsical Walker’s description of the studio from a book published in 1922

A rather wonderful description of Oliver and his sales technique is included in the book ‘From Sawdust to Windsor Castle’  4 by Whimsical Walker the famous Drury Lane Clown, a book  first published in 1922. It would be a tragedy to cut short or summarise his words and so they are repeated here in full.

‘The great man of Scarborough in those days was Sarony. In his way he was quite a genius. He had begun life as a showman – in America – I think – and he was enormously successful, not only in the profession in which he started but subsequently as an artist-photographer. He had a sumptuous studio in Scarborough and was patronised by the highest people in society. His photographs certainly were the loveliest things of their kind then to be seen and his work was well known all over the world.

But in his heart he was a showman and he looked it, a short thick set man with enormously broad shoulders, big muscular throat of which he showed an ample quantity with his turn down collar and flowing necktie, his smooth black hair allowed to grow somewhat lengthy, his hawk-like nose, flexible lips and penetrating dark eyes. He always wore a broad brimmed soft felt hat which in those days marked the photographer. His personality was distinctly attractive and he had a way of making himself very engaging especially to the lady sitters.

He did not forget the showman even as an artist and photographer. It was a matter of indifference to him how many copies of a photo a customer ordered. He had a formula in reserve which brought him hundreds of pounds. The plan was this. Directly a photograph was taken with which he was satisfied – and he was a better judge than the sitter – a lantern transparency was made from the negative. In the meantime while the transparency was being prepared he would engage the sitter in his beautifully appointed reception room in fascinating talk, and while bowing him or her out he would remark quite casually. “By the way there is something that might interest you”.

Drawing a curtain aside he would usher his customer into a darkened chamber at the end of which was a screen on which a large size enlargement of the photograph that had just been taken was thrown.  The sitter was naturally overwhelmed with surprise – by the way surprise is the essence of a showman’s art.  Sarony in his insinuating way would dilate upon the beauty of an enlarged reproduction finished in oils, and it may safely be said that five cases out of six he landed his fish and the customer who came in with the intention of spending a five pound note ended in spending twenty times that amount.

But the finished reproduction in oils was well worth the money. Sarony had a painters studio attached to his establishment and a staff of fine artists to whom he paid very large salaries. He would touch nothing himself no matter what he dabbled in but the best. I may say in passing hat no one had a larger clientele of actors and actresses than Sarony of Scarborough and his portraits many of which were to be seen in the box office lobbies of theaters were always greatly admired. ‘

The Monckhoven solar enlarger was the device by which the life size photographs were shown and used to transfer the images to canvas. "The direct rays of the sun were reflected from a mirror adjustable from the darkroom, through the negative, to the enlarging easel on which was the wet canvas sensitized with silver nitrate. The exposures were probably two to four minutes. 5 The image produced formed a basis for the artist to produce the painted portrait . 

1872 The sale of the Sarony’s Gallery of Paintings including ‘Scarborough in the Season’ 

In February 1872 Messrs Hardwick, Best & Young of Park Row and South Parade Leeds were instructed to sell a collection of modern oil paintings known as Sarony’s Gallery. These included the following.

‘Lake Scene near Naples’ by Unterberger

‘Sheep in Landscape’ by De Beul

‘Marine Views, with Boats’,’ Venice Sunset’ ,’ Verona Moonlight’ and ‘Four Irish Wood and Water Scenes’   by Zimmerman

‘The Toilette’ by Newmans

‘The Gipsies’ and ‘The Nurse and Child’ by Van Geller

‘Fruit Piece’ by T Hughes

‘The Letter’ and ‘Lady and the Dog and Interior’ by Lampe

‘The cheap tripper at Scarborough ‘and its companion picture  by T Jones Barker

‘The Spinning Wheel’ by Walrain

‘The fisher girl’ by Geller

‘Tanallon Castle’  and ‘Italian sunset’ by Webbe

‘View of Holland’ by Curraseg

‘The Wood Cutter’ by Marohn

‘Marine View’ by Reigen

‘The Fisherman’ by Poitman

Six Water Colours by Paul Marny

Large Oil Painting ‘Scarborough in the Season’ by Marny, Geo Earl and Clint

‘Achensee in the Tyrol’ and ‘Sorento Italy’ by Unterberger

‘Feeding Chickens’ by A Geller (most probably Angelina Geller)

‘Snow Scene Children at Play’ by Seban

‘The Dogans Venice’ by Meadows

From these painters it is known that Marny, Newmans, Thomas Jones Barker , William Overend Geller (real name Gelder) worked for Oliver but it is not known if any of the others did..

The sale of the paintings may well have been to fund a trip to America where Oliver spent much of March 1872 he had come to a business arrangement with Henry Vander Weyde to promote a new and improved method for applying colour or tints to the surface of photographs or other surfaces. 6  Oliver’s visit to America during March included visits to New Orleans, Memphis, Cincinnati and California amongst other places. It is inconceivable that he wouldn’t have also visited his brother Napoleon in New York and this could well have been the last time the brothers saw each other. Oliver is said to have taken portraits of Jefferson Davis and Buffalo Bill whilst in America. 7 

Carte De Visites and Cabinet Photos

Here are a few examples of the studio portraits taken in Scarborough.


Although these are later examples than the ones shown from the Leeds studio Oliver is still using a painted backdrop. The photo on the left is somewhat earlier showing draped curtains and props which do tend to distract the attention, whilst with the one on the right the mount has a gold bevelled edge, which would probably mean that it was produced sometime after 1880. (Percy Lund was producing and advertising gold bevel edged card from 1888/9) In this example the back of the card is plain with the only logo appearing on the front. A painted backdrop is used in this portrait and seating but in this case it is used more sensitively. 


This portrait by the Sarony studio was coloured by a Miss Bond from Southsea. Photo kindly provided by Ron Cosens www.cartedevisite.co.uk.  Miss Bond may have worked for Sarony at the studio but there is also a chance that the photo may have been coloured at a later date at the request of the sitter which might explain why a label with Miss Bond’s name on it has been attached to the card. She advertised her services in Southsea and in London, in the Hampshire Telegraph 23rd April 1870. 8 Her advertisement states..

“23 Sackville Street, Piccadilly, London. Miss Bond will be painting photographs at the above address from 25th April to 15th May after then at 1 Oakley Place Southsea, as usual.”

She is also known to have coloured photographs for Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) and may have even coloured in 1860 one of the photographs of Alice Liddell 

The statement on the label says that she had Royal Patronage and this is confirmed by a newspaper article from the Morning Post 30th July 1867 9 which states “Miss Bond of Southsea has had the honour of attending at Osborne to colour photographic portraits of members of the Royal Family.”  An example of her work on a Royal Portrait is shown on the website 19thcenturyphotos.com

The Spa Promenade

There is a painting which takes pride of place in Scarborough Town Hall today and it is of the Prince of Wales on the promenade, in front of the Spa. The painting entitled ‘The Spa Promenade’ is by Thomas Jones Barker and was painted in 1871, in fact most probably over the period 1869-1874. 
The scene is fictitious with the Prince of Wales standing below the lamp post surrounded by others, some close by and some not so close. But who were these people, were  they the result of Barker’s imagination or were they real characters, perhaps local dignitaries. In fact a key to the picture was produced naming all the people and they had actually paid for their portraits to be included. Those closest to the Prince paying the highest fee. This is what is termed a subscription painting and this type of picture was popular during Victorian times. The Dickinson Brothers also produced one, A Yearling Sale at Doncaster.

The actual image of the Prince of Wales in the painting was taken from a photograph, produced in 1869 shown here courtesy of North Yorkshire County Council. It is most likely that the images of the other people in the picture would have also been based upon photographic portraits.In fact it is probably the case that when a portrait was taken in the studio Oliver took the opportunity to persuade the sitter for an extra fee to have their portrait included in the painting.

Oliver can be seen in the picture on the far right with his hand on the shoulder of another man, a Mr Toole of the Gaiety Theatre, London. Next to him on his right is George Reeves Smith, his business partner. But Oliver is looking out to sea. This was the place where the lifeboat tragedy took place in 1861 when Lord Beauclerk and others lost their lives and Oliver whilst trying to save Beauclerk was dragged out to sea and was close to losing his own life. Is he remembering those events instead of paying attention to the Royal visitor or was there something else attracting his attention. Unfortunately this postcard sized version of the picture, kindly provided by Scarborough Town Hall, does not show some figures which are on the far right and these are a number of ladies riding on the beach. Oliver’s wife Elizabeth is not shown in the key but she was a keen horsewomen, she often took part in local hunts and was regarded as the best horsewomen in the neighbourhood 10 , was she one of the figures riding on the beach and is Oliver looking out to her, we shall never know. A full size version of the picture can be seen on the BBC’s Your Paintings website but if you want to see the real thing then you would have to visit Scarborough Town Hall and this is well worth a visit, but you would be well advised to check when it is actually open to visitors.

By March 1873 Oliver's business partner George Reeves Smith had decided to retire. The business had operated as Sarony & Co but more recently as Sarony and Smith. 11 They were described as Photographers, Carvers and Guilders, Publishers and Picture Dealers.

The Death of Oliver Sarony

Oliver died on 30th August 1879 aged 59. He had suffered from Diabetes for some years.

Oliver Saronys Grave
Two years after he died his wife Elizabeth b 1823 married a much younger man, Thomas Dawes who was born in 1852. They married on 20th Jan 1881 at St Martin’s Church in Sarony Square. Thomas had previously been married to Napoleon Sarony’s eldest daughter Ida  b 1848. but Ida had passed away on the 25th May 1878 possibly during the birth of their child Ida Nellie Dawes. This left Thomas with a new born baby and not only that Ida already had a six year old child, Jenny, by a previous marriage to John Francis Leighton, so in fact there were two young children to be looked after.

Whether it was love or convenience that led to the marriage of Elizabeth and Thomas Dawes cannot be said but he became involved in the business and even changed his name to Thomas Dawes Sarony.  They married on 20th Jan 1881 at St Martins, just 17 months after Oliver had died. Elizabeth and Oliver Sarony never had any children so perhaps she relished the idea of having two daughters to care for. The 1881 census describes Thomas Dawes as a manager of a photographic establishment. Their address was Vandyke House, Sarony Square, Scarborough which is interesting because this would appear to show that Vandyke House had living accommodation. The question is who was living at Gainsborough House?  There is an interesting clue or possibly a misleading clue that appears in a press report in the Yorkshire Post dated 5th November 1884. 12 John Reid Auctioneers had bought the entire contents of Gainsborough House, South Cliff Scarborough and was selling these to the public. The resident had been a Mr W S Caine MP who was leaving Scarborough.

Thomas Dawes was involved in local politics and was elected to a seat on the town council in 1884 and with a years interval his appointment continued up to 1891. He was also a well  known member of the conservative party and a prominent freemason. 13 .

Oliver’s grave in Dean Road Cemetery Scarborough is shown left. Both Oliver and Elizabeth are buried here and surprisingly Thomas Dawes is buried in the same plot along with Napoleon Sarony’s daughters Jennie and Ida. Jennie was the wife of Samuel W Fisher JP and Ida of course was the first wife of Thomas Dawes before he married Elizabeth. Although this may be regarded by many as Oliver Sarony’s grave with the others buried alongside him, in fact it was Thomas Dawes’s wife Ida who died first in 1878 and her inscription faces the main pathway through the cemetery, Oliver died in 1879 and then Thomas Dawes 1894, Elizabeth in 1903 and Jennie in 1904. Only a few yards away is the grave of Lord Charles Beauclerk.


Portraits of the Dawes Family

These two portraits are of John Dawes and Caroline Brough, the parents of Thomas Dawes and were taken at the studio most probably during the 1880's. Shown here with kind permission of the Brough Family Organization. Thomas was a master Brewer and was born in Birmingham, Caroline Brough was from Lincolnshire, they married in Hull. John Dawes died in 1888 and in 1899 Caroline at the age of 69 moved to Utah in the United States. Like the portraits of the four girls shown above these two photos have a green backing card with gold bevelled edge.

John Dawes
Caroline Brough

Some Scarborough Faces;

A book was published in 1901 entitled Some Scarborough Faces Past and Present 14 and in it there is a series of interviews with some of the leading citizens of Scarborough. The interviews and portraits had been taken during the period 1894-1898 and published in The Scarborough Magazine. Many of the portraits are by the Sarony studio but there are two of particular interest as far as the Sarony story is concerned.  

Valentine Fowler

Valentine Fowler, Alderman and Mayor of Scarborough (b1849)

Valentine Fowler had a son by the same name born 1877 and he married into the Sarony Family in 1896. His wife was Ida Nellie Dawes the daughter of Thomas Dawes and Ida Sarony who as mentioned above was the daughter of Napoleon Sarony. So just to clarify this Thomas Dawes had first married Ida the daughter of Napoleon Sarony and she died probably during the birth of Ida Nellie Dawes. Three years later Thomas Dawes married Elizabeth Sarony, widow of Oliver Sarony and then Ida Nellie Dawes went on to marry Valentine Fowler Jnr.

In 1917 Valentine Jnr was killed  at Ypres, West Flanders. He had risen to the rank of Major. Ida went on to live a long life and died in 1966 in Utah in the United States.

 Lord Londesborough

The Prince of Wales made visits to Scarborough in Nov 1869, 1870 and 1871 staying at Lord Londesborough’s residence Londesborough Lodge.   They would go shooting together with a party of other distinguished guests. Whilst in Scarborough The Prince visited Oliver Sarony’s studio 15 and on one occasion Sarony was invited to the shoot to take photos of the Prince and his guests. The Yorkshire Post 3rd Nov 1871 reported “The day at Scarborough has been the most enjoyable of the week. With the least trifle of wind and a maximum of sunshine what could be better than to devote the morning to Sarony and the arts? The Royal guests at Londesborough Lodge did not, however, favour the pleasant suburb of the south cliff with their presence. Mr Sarony received his commands to wait upon the distinguished party, and from an early hour this morning he was engaged in composing groups and finding situations. The forenoon was spent by their Royal Highness and their noble friends in submitting to Mr Sarony’s treatment of them; and after posing them about in various attitudes both singly and in groups, the artist was delighted to find he had obtained several really fine pictures of his illustrious sitters.” Londesborough Lodge was overlooked by the properties on the Crescent. It is said that the Children who lived on the magnificent Crescent would look out of their windows and watch for the famous visitors coming and going from the lodge.  

The Ledger- Family Portraits on Canvas.

Elizabeth continued to run the studio after Olivers death. The work with the artists continued and a quite remarkable ledger can be found in the archives at Scarborough Library which gives us some insight into the work that took place. The ledger was kept by the studio in order to keep track of the orders that had been placed. It is entitled “Sarony's Family Paintings on Canvas, Subscribers signature book“.  The ledger starts in 1880 and spans a period of more than fifteen years. During the first ten years there are approximately one hundred and fifty entries averaging just over one a month. Each page of the book has a photograph of the sitter and details of the size of the portrait required along with any special instructions.

The Sarony Ledger

This treasure of a book gives us a good insight into the type of people placing orders for Sarony’s painted portraits, perhaps to hang in their home or their workplace. Fees ranged from 25 guineas for a portrait 17” by 14” up to 150 guineas for a portrait 56” by 38”. Frames were extra and there was an option to have these gilded. But the process was not quick, some examples are dated August and have notes indicating a spring delivery, some are marked as being paid for years after the order was placed.

Once a painting had been ordered it was delivered to the client and payment in full would be expected, although this was not always received. The Lincolnshire Echo 14th August 1901 16 reported on a case where the studio had not received payment and this resulted in a court case against Mr John J Saville, Steel File Manufacturer from Sheffield. He had commissioned two portraits, one of himself and one of his wife. The portraits were commission in August 1898 and were valued at 50 guineas each plus 8 guineas for each frame. Saville received the paintings in November and refused to pay for his wives portrait as he said that she was unrecognisable. He also complained that he thought the cost of 50 guineas included the frame. After considerable effort to resolve the issue Elizabeth Sarony Dawes sued Saville to recover the money. Judge Raikes gave a judgement that the portrait was a ‘very fairly good one’ and that the full amount claimed with costs should be paid by Mr Saville. The Manchester Echo 14th Aug 1901 17 said the artist had been Mr Vivian and that the Judge considering the portrait was partly painted from life and partly from a photograph he considered it a very good likeness.

The danger in taking this court action of course was that Elizabeth would generate a considerable amount of publicity, as the story would have been reported in a lot of newspapers . If she lost the case it would damage the Studios reputation, but if she won it would send a strong message to every client that once an order had been placed and the work completed that they must pay up. It is clear from the reports that Elizabeth made every effort to satisfy Mr and Mrs Saville dissatisfaction with the portrait and no less than nine offers were made in one form or another to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The judge took this into account when reaching his verdict and the fact that Saville had turned down the offers.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph gave a fuller account of the case and said that on 20th August 1898 18 the couple went to the studio with the intention and having their portraits taken and met with Mr S W Fisher J.P. who was manager and was now a partner in the firm along with Mr Vivian the Artist. Mr Conley Vivian was a distinguished artist. During the court case when he gave evidence his address was given as 80 Warwick Gardens, Kensington London. He said he had been a portrait painter for 30 years and had exhibited in the Royal Academy and other galleries. Until the case of Mr Saville he had never in the whole of his experience had a similar complaint. He at once consented to make any alterations possible. He thought that the portrait as it now appeared in court was a good one at the time it was taken. He had taken portraits of the King when Prince of Wales, Earl Manvers, The Duke of Portland, The Prince Imperial and many other important personages.  Mr Paul Marny, portrait artist, Scarborough. Mr F W Booty Landscape artist, Scarborough and Mr F P Richardson Piccadilly London Picture Dealer all gave evidence.  So all the stops were pulled out to win the case and Elizabeth succeeded. But one wonders why Mr Richardson had anything to do with the case unless he was defending the reputation of Mr Vivian and also if Mr Vivian was actually living in London at the time he took on the commission or if he had just moved there sometime afterwards. Did Elizabeth commission artists as far away as London to undertake the portraits?

Portrait of Samson Fox and Sons

One of the entries in the ledger is that of a Mr S Fox with presumably his two sons living their address was Castleton Lodge, Leeds. The entry is dated 3rd November 1880. He was clearly a man of means as he ordered the largest portrait measuring 56” by 38” at a cost of 150 Guineas.

Portrait of Sampson Fox and Sons
Mr S Fox of Castleton Lodge was in fact Samson Fox and his two sons were Arthur William Fox and Jonas Fox, aged 10 and 7 respectively. Sampson was the Great Great Grandfather of actress Emilia Fox who recently featured in the BBCs Who do you think you are and Great Grandfather to Actor Edward Fox.

Samson was born in Bowling in Bradford. When he was a young man he reportedly said “I’ll tramp until I find a job as a mechanic and I’ll be nowt else’  19 . He was apprenticed to a Leeds tool making and foundry company and built himself a lathe at home from odds and ends to increase his skills. He established his own company the Leeds Forge Company in 1873. One of his inventions, which he patented, was the Corrugated Boiler Flue, it was used in shipping and locomotives worldwide, an example can be seen at the Leeds Industrial museum in Armley. The company also manufactured railway undercarriages and trucks.

The entry in the 1881 census shows Samson as director of an Iron Forge employing 320 men and boys his address was Castleton Lodge, Leeds, later he moved to Grove House in Harrogate and was appointed Lord Mayor of Harrogate in 1890, a position he held for three years running.

Samson introduced Water Gas to this country by taking a patent from a German company. He built a workshop in the basement of Grove House where he carried out experiments. The British Water Gas Company was formed with a number of subsidiaries, Samson was Chairman. Although the gas was successful in generating a great amount of heat and was used at his works in Armley it was not a great success when used in lighting.

After floating his companies on the stock exchange he raised a great deal of money and gave £45,000 towards the building of the Royal College of Music. His reputation was damaged for a while when a newspaper printed libellous remarks about the flotation of his companies claiming that he had misled the shareholders. Sampson took court action and his reputation was restored. He carried out many public spirited duties and in celebration of the ending of the war in South Africa in 1902 he roasted a giant Ox weighing 80 stone using a huge spit on the Stray in Harrogate, providing  4,000 small loaves of bread and 600 gallons of Ale for the poor so they could have a right Royal feast. The Ox took 26 hours to cook. 20 . He died in 1903 whilst campaigning to become a member of Parliament for Walsall.

And so Samson was a man of means, one of the greats of the Industrial Revolution and he could afford the portrait of himself and his two sons to be taken by the Sarony studio and a painting produced from it. The portrait was taken after Oliver’s death of course so the two men may not have met each other, but clearly the reputation of Oliver’s Studio was still strong enough to attract some of the great men of the Industrial Revolution.  

The fate of the Studio

Following Oliver Sarony's death in 1879 Elizabeth married Thomas Dawes in January 1881. By 1884 they were giving their address as Vandyke House and in 1886 Gainsborough House was offered for lease to The Retreat, a charitable organisation caring for the mentally ill. The Retreat stayed at Gainsborough house until 1902 and then moved on to Throxenby Hall, a property owned by Lord Londesborough. In a legal case in 1885  involving a portrait by Barker, Thomas is still being referred to as Thomas Dawes, but on the 21st March 1887 he changed his name by Deed Poll to Thomas Dawes Sarony. 21  He died in 1894 aged 42. 

On the 26th January 1903 the Sheffield Daily Telegraph 22 said that Vandyke House had announced the death of Elizabeth Sarony she lived to the grand old age of 83. 

By 1913 the business had moved to 17 St Nicholas Street, Scarborough and the property at Sarony Square fell into disrepair.  It seems that nobody was willing to take on the building and the restrictions that were put in place on its use cannot have helped. Scarborough Council bought the site and the building was finally demolished in 1924 when it was intended to build houses but instead very sadly it was turned into tennis courts and eventually ended up as a car park. A very sad end to a glorious building which according the Royal Photographic Societies Journal Vol 96 23 was "the largest and finest building ever built (or that will ever be built) for portraiture."  The Kelly's Directory of 1913 24 reveals that the company had now turned Limited and that they were also operating from a site at the Spa. 

In 1925 the Sarony business was bought by Ralph William Clarke, a court photographer and an artist. He kept the business running until 1960 when he retired. The premises at St Nicholas Street was demolished to make room for the Town Hall extension. 

Sarony blue plaque
What a shame it is that Sarony is not remembered in Scarborough today for what he achieved. Not a blue plaque, not a mention of the magnificent Gainsborough/Vandyke House. Sarony Square has been wiped from the pages of its history and all we have now is a car park with no reference to what took place on the site. It is a missed opportunity to bring part of the history of Scarborough back to life, a history that would be of great interest to those living in Scarborough and those visiting Scarborough today.  

Stop press ! A Blue Plaque has now been erected and a sign recognising Sarony's work. Well done to all involved.

Oliver Sarony

A report by the Committee of the Friends of the Retreat, dated 1886
The Photographic Studios of Europe by Henry Baden Pritchard 1882
The Making of English Photographic Allegories by Steve Edwards 2006
4 From Sawdust to Windsor Castle by Whimsical Walker 1922
Leeds Mercury 26th March 1872
Oliver Sarony by Anne and Paul Bayliss 1998
Hampshire Telegraph 23rd April 1870.
Morning Post 30th July 1867
10 York Herald 27th Jan 1866
11 Sheffield Independent 12th March 1873
12 Yorkshire Post 5th November 1884
13 York Herald 22 dec 1894
14 Some Scarborough Faces 1901
15 Leeds Mercury 6th Nov 1869, and 19th Nov 1870,
16 Lincolnshire Echo 14th August 1901
17 Manchester Echo 14th Aug 1901
18 Sheffield Daidy Telegraph 20th Aug 1898
19 West Gippsland Gazette 29th Dec 1903
20 The Cornishman 19th June 1902
21 London Standard 26th April 1887
22 Sheffield Telegraph 26th Jan 1903
23 Royal Photographic Societies Journal Vol 96
24 Kelly's Directory Scarborough 1913