Whitby Museum has an extensive photographic collection based on some 17,000 glass-plate and film negatives dating back to the 1860s. We have an increasing number of photographic prints, and around 10,000 slides, ranging from glass lantern slides to the positive transparencies of the later 20th century. We are gradually acquiring digital photographs especially of objects, engravings and paintings that are in the museum collections.
The museum holds the work of well-known local photographers: Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, Tom Watson, Hugh Lambert-Smith, the Doran Brothers, John Tindale, and our recent curator Des Sythes, among others. You can learn more through two books of images, both chosen and collated by the late Des Sythes: Around Whitby, and Whitby – the Second Selection. Further sources of learning are CDs and DVDs; hard copies of images; texts on fishing, farming, and the seaside through history. All resources are available for purchase.
The museum’s temporary exhibition programme has included photographic displays titled: The Shops and Streets of Whitby, Fishing, Local Villages, Wreck and Rescue, The Many Faces of Whitby, Now and Then and John Tindale: A Vision of Whitby. We are currently undertaking a long-term programme of digitising the negative stock for ease of reproduction and as a back-up to the originals. Our photographic collections are available to the public (by prior arrangement) and researchers as well as members of the Society.
Included in this collection
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1941)
A nationally and internationally acclaimed pioneering photographer who helped to develop photography as an art form as distinct from a purely recording medium. Sutcliffe worked in Whitby from the mid-1870s until his death. He was also, from the early 1920s until his death, secretary of the Lit & Phil. Most of the photographs for which he is now famous were taken, often out-of-season, for his own satisfaction rather than as part of his ‘bread and butter’ work which included much portraiture. They include many of the harbour, fishing and fisher-folk, but all carefully posed. His equipment ranged from the cumbersome brass and mahogany full-plate cameras with their wet collodion process of the late nineteenth century to the hand-held bellows types of this century using celluloid negatives. Copies of many of his photographs, of which the Whitby Lit & Phil preserves the original glass plate negatives, are available from the Sutcliffe Gallery, Flowergate, Whitby who also publish several volumes of selected images.[Biographical details by courtesy of Chris Roberts & Roger Pickles – Hon. Curator of Photograph]
Tom Watson (1863-1957)
Watson was a contemporary of F M Sutcliffe, in whose shadow he worked. He was born in Ruswarp but moved to his beloved Lythe around 1865. After leaving school, he worked for 15 years at Mulgrave Castle but times were hard at the end of the 19th century and he determined to try his hand at earning a living through photography, until then, only a hobby. Throughout his career he enjoyed the patronage of his former employer, the Marquis of Normanby, and many of his photographs are of Mulgrave Castle, the estate, and the estate workers. All his photographs were developed and printed without the aid of electricity, his studio at Lythe being without this service until the post-war years at the end of his life. Nevertheless, the results are equal to those of any modern laboratory. His images of everyday life and scenes in Whitby and many of the surrounding villages are social documents of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. He was one of the first to see the potential of seaside postcards and those he produced are now widely sought after.[Biographical details by courtesy of Chris Roberts & Roger Pickles – Hon. Curator of Photographs]
Hugh Lambert-Smith (1900-1981)
Lambert-Smith was born in Whitby and served as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War One. He then qualified as an optician with a business in the town, later running a photographic business as a sideline. He was also a painter, designing for the ‘Wings for Victory’ campaign in World War Two and producing a mural for the hall of the Whitby Mission to Seaman, which can still be seen there, as well as designing scenery for many amateur dramatic productions. He was a founder member and president of the Whitby Photographic Society. Many of his negatives covering Whitby and district from the 1930s to the 1960s are now in the archive of Whitby Museum.[Biographical details by courtesy of Chris Roberts & Roger Pickles – Hon. Curator of Photographs]
The Doran Brothers (1900-1987)
Terry and Eric Doran inherited the family photographer’s business started by their grandfather in 1905. Apart from their commercial work within the holiday resort of Whitby they photographed almost every coastal vessel which passed their premises on Marine Parade next to the harbour for several decades, as well as the fishing industry and work of the lifeboats. Thanks to the Dorans, we also have an astonishing record of shipwrecks occurring over more than a quarter of a century. Looking at their photographs, it is a wonder that vessels can still ply the local waters without being holed by all the submerged tonnage! They will be remembered most of all for their faithful recording of people and events which remind us of Whitby’s heritage. They retired in 1987, and their collection of negatives was purchased by the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society for the Museum in 1994, with financial assistance from the Marquis of Normanby.[Biographical details by courtesy of Chris Roberts & Roger Pickles – Hon. Curator of Photographs]
John Tindale (1921-2001)
John Tindale was for many years a chemist and professional photographer in Whitby. He worked in the family chemists business started by his father, Charles, for a short period including collecting film for processing from customers on his bike before going to university and later seeing service in the Second World War. At that time, it was common for chemists to have a photographic side to the business and John opened a studio and pharmacy in Skinner Street in 1947. Much of his commercial work was commissioned by local public bodies which resulted in an extensive record of the re-building of Whitby. He also worked for many years as a freelance photographer for the Whitby Gazette chronicling the social life of Whitby and its citizens. Throughout his professional life, he was a member and keen supporter of the Whitby Photographic Society and Whitby Lit & Phil, whose Annual Report he edited for many years. A large collection of his prints from the 1950’s onward, taken for the Whitby Gazette, were donated to Whitby Museum after the newspaper was sold by the original owners, the Horne family, in the 1980’s. They record post-war changes to social life in the Town as well as much re-building. We also retain his comprehensive record of the local fishing industry during the 50s and 60s. Before his death in 2001, John Tindale gave to the Museum his library of negatives dating from the 1950’s until his retirement in the late 1970’s.[Biographical details by courtesy of Chris Roberts & Roger Pickles – Hon. Curator of Photographs]
In 2021 the museum staged a major exhibition about his life and work to celebrate the centenery of his birth.
Des Sythes (1929-2008)
Des was born in East London within sight of the Thames and had a lifelong interest in ships and the sea. Shortly after World War Two he joined Trinity House as a lighthouse keeper and served in most of the major lighthouses round the UK, finishing at Whitby High Light until automation and his replacement by a microchip. He was a talented water-colour artist, keen member of Whitby Rotary Club and helped produce the Talking Newspaper for the Blind as well as giving illustrated talks. He never claimed to be a photographer but tirelessly recorded Whitby and its changing buildings and townscapes. As curator of Whitby Museum’s photographic collections he listed and catalogued many thousands of our negatives for the first time using his own home computer. With the completion of our new temporary exhibition room in 2005 he instituted and mounted a series of annual photographic exhibitions. His collection of marine and Town photographs and images of items in the Museum’s collections bring our holdings up to date.[Biographical details by courtesy of Chris Roberts & Roger Pickles – Hon. Curator of Photographs]