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Derbyshire Photographers' Profiles
by Brett Payne, of Tauranga, New Zealand
Thomas Roberts (1804-1885)

of Derby

Thomas Roberts was one of Derby's earliest photographers, operating intermittently from various premises in Victoria Street, Oakes' Yard and Albert Street between 1844 and the mid- to late 1870s.

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Thomas Roberts was born in Derby on 17 April 1804, son of Robert Samuel Roberts and Celia Tooth.  He married Harriet Haworth (b. 1805) on 17 April 1829 at Derby St Peter.  Between 1830 and 1840 Thomas and Harriet had three sons and three daughters.  Although his youngest son was a John Roberts, the latter was born at Derby in 1840, and was therefore not the John Roberts, photographer of Osmaston Street and St Peter's Street, who was born at Aston-upon-Trent in 1830.

On the mounts of cartes de visite produced in the early 1870s, Roberts claimed to have been "established" in 1843.  In September 1844 Thomas Roberts announced, by way of an advertisement in the Derby Mercury (25 September 1844, page 2, col 6, in Heathcote & Heathcote, 2002), that he had acquired the daguerreotype licence for the entire county of Derbyshire, and would be taking portraits at the former studio of John Johnson (1831-1871) in Victoria Street, Derby.  The terms of this licence required that Roberts pay the owner of the patent rights, Richard Beard, a substantial percentage of all sales.  After some twelve months in business, it appears that Roberts' daguerreotype business did not pay its way, and he appears to have concentrated more on his stationers, newsagent & bookselling business at 3 St. James' Lane (Bagshaw, 1846; Slater, 1847; Freebody, 1852; Post Office, 1855).

Craven (1993) states that Roberts was not active during the period 1854-1860.  However, White (1857) shows him again operating as a photographic artist from new premises at Oakes' Yard, and it seems likely that he resumed business in 1855 or 1856, soon after the expiry of Beard's patent in August 1853.  Harrison (1860) on the other hand, describes him once again as only a newsagent.  By 1870 (Harrod) and 1874 (Wright) he had moved the studio to Albert street, and still operated the newsagents, although it was now located at number 2 Morledge.  He also opened stall at the Market Hall, selling books and stationery, by 1874.  The census of April 1881, however, showed him only as a newsagent, and it is presumed that he had closed the studio by that time.

An interesting advertisement appears in the edition of The Derby Mercury dated 12 January 1876, which appears provide a date by which Roberts must have ceased operating his studio:

Albert-street, Derby.  To photographers, gardeners, and others.  Messrs. J. and W. Heathcote have received instructions from Mr. Roberts, to sell by auction, upon the premises adjoining the Co-operative Stores, Albert-stree, Derbt, on Thursday, Jan. 13, 1876, at 11 o'clock precisely, a photographic studio, well adapted for a Greenhouse.  It contains 10 frames, glazed with 21 oz. glass, 6ft. by 3 ft. 4 in., and 6 frames 3 ft. 6 in. by 3 ft. 3 in., besides various other lights, with wood floor, and part sides, measuring 26 ft. long by 10 ft. wide.  Also several Photographic Instruments, including multum in parvo, pedestal vase, full plate lense, half plate ditto., quarter plate ditto, with camera complete, rolling machine 17 in. with polished plate, stove piping, and other effects.  The whole to be sold without reseve, the land being wanted for building purposes immediately.  Auction Offices, Albert-street, Derby.

Thomas Roberts died at Derby on 2 December 1885.  His widow Harriet continued the bookselling business at the Market Hall stall, helped by a grand-daughter, while her two daughters Elizabeth and Jane ran the newsagent's shop at Morledge until at least 1895.  Harriet died in Derby in 1900.


Portfolio
Image © & courtesy of Janet Bitton Unidentified young man
by Thomas Roberts of Albert Street, Derby,
Undated, but probably taken in the early 1870s
Format: Carte de Visite
Size: Mount 63 x 102.5 mm Photo 56.5 x 93 mm

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Notes:

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley Unidentified man with gun
by Thomas Roberts of Albert Street, Derby,
Undated, but probably taken in the late 1860s or early 1870s
Format: Carte de Visite
Size: Mount 63.5 x 103 mm Photo 60.5 x 92 mm

Image © & courtesy of John Bradley


Notes:

References
Images kindly provided by John Bradley & Brett Payne
Bagshaw (1846) History, Gazetteer and Directory of Derbyshire.
Slater (1847) Directory of the following important English towns: Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and West Bromwich. University of Leicester's Digital Library of Historical Directories
Freebody (1852) Directory of the Towns of Derby, Chesterfield, Alfreton, Buxton, Bakewell & Matlock. University of Leicester's Digital Library of Historical Directories
Anon (1855) The Post Office Directory of Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire. University of Leicester's Digital Library of Historical Directories
White, F. & Co. (1857) History, Gazetteer & Directory of the County of Derby, Neil Wilson's Full Transcript
Harrod & Co. (1870) Postal & Commercial Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland & Staffordshire. University of Leicester's Digital Library of Historical Directories
1861 Census of Derbyshire, publ. on CD-ROM by ArchiveCD Books.
1881 UK Census - online from the LDS church
1891 UK Census - online from Ancestry.com
1901 UK Census index - online from the PRO
FreeBMD
North East Midland Photographic Record - Picture the Past
Anon (1881) Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, Kelly & Co., London.
Anon (1887) Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, Kelly & Co., London.
Anon (1891) Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland & Nottinghamshire, Kelly & Co., London. University of Leicester's Digital Library of Historical Directories
Anon (1895) Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, Kelly & Co. Limited, London.
Anon (1895) History, Topography, and Directory of Derbyshire, T. Bulmer & Co. - by kind courtesy of Sonia Addis-Smith
Heathcote, Bernard & Pauline (2002) A Faithful Likeness - The First Photographic Portrait Studios in the British Isles, 1841 to 1855, publ. by the authors, 27 Plough Lane, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, NG14 7AT, England, Courtesy of David Simkin.

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