Background to the Collection
William Spanton had established his 'Repository of Arts and West Suffolk Photographic establishment' at 16 Abbeygate Street by 1864. As well as his artistic and photographic work he was also a house decorator, plumber, glazier, carver, gilder and painter. However, he soon gave up his other concerns, except framing and gilding, to concentrate on the photographic work. Sadly, he died at the age of 47 in January 1870.
His son, William Silas Spanton, who was then an art student in London, returned to Bury, where he ran the business successfully until his retirement in 1901. As well as photography, he retained his interest in art and gained a reputation as a copyist, producing copies of many pictures in local collections. He also had a good business as an optician.
As far as can be seen, W S Spanton did not do nearly so much topographical work as the other establishes local photographers, John William Clarke and his son, John Palmer Clarke. They had established their business on Angel Hill by about 1868, and their advertisements made frequent references to their large collection of local views.
In 1890 Harry Isaac Jarman became apprenticed to John Palmer Clarke and remained with him after qualifying until the retirement of W S Spanton in 1901. At this point, H I Jarman bought Spanton's business and its collection of negatives. Soon afterwards, in 1903, JP Clarke moved to Cambridge and Mr Jarman bought the extensive collection of negatives of local views which had been created by that firm.
Later, the business was continued by Harry's son, Oswald Jarman, who was a member of the Past & Present Society and served on the committee for many years.
On his retirement in 1975 a large number of the early glass negatives were deposited with the Suffolk record office, and have remained stored in environmentally controlled conditions in the Bury St Edmunds branch to this day.
The collection consists of 4000 negatives, and includes the work of Harry and Oswald Jarman, along with photographs taken be William Spanton and his son W S Spanton, and those purchased from John Palmer Clarke. They give a fascinating glimpse into life in Bury St Edmunds and a number of smaller towns and villages across the county from 1860s to the outbreak of WW2.
In 1997 Oswald Jarman's son Michael donated the collection to the Past and Present Society, with a request that members do all they could to preserve it as a unique source of local history and make it widely available to the public.
The Society successfully bid for lottery funding to clean and repackage the collection, and has digitised 1000 images of Bury St Edmunds which are displayed on this website. A team of volunteers has written captions for these, each conducting their own research, and we are grateful to local historians Margaret Statham and Clive Paine for the helpful guidance they provided at this stage.
Unfortunately, lottery funding has not been available for the current phase of our project which seeks to digitise the remainder of the collection, and eventually to provide captions for each of them. For this, we have sought sponsorship from interested local groups and individuals who support our aim of making this unique collection of photographs available for all to enjoy.
If you wish to comment on the photographs or offer support with sponsorship or captions, please at this special address.
Betty Milburn is project co-ordinator, and
Chris Austin from The Internet Consultancy has created the website.