Hertfordshire Postcard Artists, Photographers, Publishers, etc.

Samuel Debenhan


of Hitchin (1862-3), Bedford (1863) & Luton (1864-9)



CDV of unknown man








This card almost certainly dates from the autumn of 1863, and the number 16 may be a negative number if it refers to a negative taken at the short-lived Bedford studio.


Samuel Debenham (1807-1887) was one of the earliest photographers to set up a studio in Hertfordshire, but his period in the county was short-lived. He appears to have come into the business because his sons studied at the London School of Photography in the 1850s. In 1861 the family was living in London and he was described as a photographer - with sons William, Edwin and Arthur also in the business.  In September 1862 he started as a photographer, erecting a glass house (for use as a studio) in the garden of his house in Tilehouse Street, Hitchin. He also published a list of photographs for sale which he had taken in of places in Hertfordshire.

In September 1863 he opened a studio, with its own glass house, in Harpur Street, Bedford, with the arrangements for taking carte de visite being attended to by Mr. Arthur Debenham, who has three years practice in Regent Street, London. Shortly afterwards he moved the original glass house to a more convenient location in Hitchin near the Town Hall.

It is not clear how far Samuel actually took the photographs himself, or whether how far the technical aspects were handled by one of other of his sons. What is clear was the arrangement did not work and in November 1863, only two months after the announcement of the Bedford studio, Messrs Cundall, Downes & Co, of New Bond Street, London, announced they were opening (in March 1864) a new and well-appointed studio in Harpur Street, Bedford. There is no later mention of any Debenham taking photographs in Bedford and it would seem they took over the newly equipped Debenham studio.

The position in Hitchin is clearer, as Mr George Avery announced that on December 15th, 1863, he was re-opening the (presumably closed) business of Mr. Debenham. Initially he appears to have used Debenham's unused carte de visite blanks with an address label stuck on the back. Obviously the facilities were not idea as in January 1864 George was advertising for more suitable accommodation, which he acquired in Brand Street, Hitchin. In 1870 the business changed hands again, this time to Thomas Latchmore.

Between 1864 and 1869 Samuel was trading as a photographer at 10 King Street, Luton, assisted by his sons Edwin and Arthur. He then retires and his sons William, Edwin and Arthur all became well established photographers in their own right, with no further connection with Hertfordshire.

This story demonstrates how useful the British Newspaper Archive can be as almost every step in the story is illustrated by advertisements. For this reason I finish with a timeline, concentrating on the period between 1861 and 1869, including all the significant news items - excluding only repeated or very similar advertisements.

WWW   Samuel Debenham (1807-1887) was the oldest of the Debenham family to experiment with the new medium and enter the business professionally, but probably not the first. Although he was originally a baker and confectioner at Bury St Edmunds, the family moved to London in 1844 and Samuel in turn moved to Hertfordshire, eventually setting up in the photography business at Tilehouse Street in Hitchin in 1862. He moved to King Street in Luton in 1864, where he remained for five years before retiring. From the Debenham and Debnam Family History web sit, which contains examples of his work (at Luton) and information on his three photographer sons.
WWW 1857 Samuel's son William Elliott Debenham (1839-1924) married into the Southwell family of photographers in 1866. William Henry Southwell's photographic business is listed as 16, Baker Street, Portman Square, London from 1857. According to Debenham family papers ... William Elliott Debenham trained at the London School of Photography at 174 Regent Street , so possibily he and William Henry Southwell were fellow students. This would suggest how the family got involved in photography.
WWW 1859 Arthur Debenham became a successful photographer based in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. He was the son of a photographer, Samuel Debenham, and became an apprentice at the London School of Photography for four years from 1859.
Census 1861 Samuel Debenham, photographer and Teacher of drawing was lodging in Kelshall, Herts
Census 1861 The family were at 16, Mornington Road, Pancras, London
Salome Debenham Head Married F 51 - Bury St Edmund,
William E Debenham Son   M 22 Photographer Bury St Edmunds
Lucy M Debenham Daughter   F 18 - Bury St Edmunds
Edwin Debenham Son   M 16 Photographer Colorist Bury St Edmunds
Arthur Debenham Son   M 15 [Apprentice] Bury St Edmunds
Maria C Blagrave Boarder Married F 40 Minature Painter Dartford, Kent
Emma Russell Boarder Widow F 63 - Bristol, Glos
Henry W Russell Boarder   M 31 Artist Kensington, Mddx
Mary Horgan Servant   F 22 General Servant Ireland
Herts Express 6th September 1862

Herts Express 6th & 13th September 1862

Herts Express 13th-27th September 1862

Herts Express 27 December 1862

Bedford Mercury 26th September 1863

Herts Express

3rd October to 5th December 1863

Bedford Times 3rd-13th October 1863

Bedford Times 17th October 1863

Bedford Times 28th November 1863

(followed by advert for clerk, and other announcements

Herts Express 12th December 1863

Herts Express  2nd January 1864

Bedford Times 1st March, 1864

Herts Mercury 12th March 1864

at Luton - reported in several papers

Luton Times 3rd August 1867 Mr Samuel Debenham, photographer, King Street, Luton was a juror in a court case.
Luton News 18th January 1868

Luton Times 26 December 1868

Similar adverts (without last sentence) to 30 January 1869


If you know of any other examples of his work - please

Tell me about it

August 2015   Page created