Local history - About Norman May's Studio and its founder
While we were transcribing a section of the burial register of Great Malvern cemetery for the Malvern Family History Society (ref 1) we came across the name John Norman Lindley-Norman, a photographer, who was buried on 22nd June 1889 aged only 37 years.
Being interested in Victorian photographers we decided to try and find out more about him with no success, until we stumbled across an entry in the National Probate Calendar (ref 2) which stated he had been formerly known as Norman John May. That rang a bell as many photographs of schools in Great Malvern bear the imprint of Norman May's Studio, and it seemed likely that he was the founder. Norman May's photographic studio was first located in Church Street, Great Malvern, at what is today numbered 39.
A business bearing Norman May's name continues to trade, more than one hundred years after his death.
From Trade directories we have found other photographers Norman would have known. Francis Charles Earl whose shop Norman may have taken over; Edwin Drury Stowe who was in partnership with Norman circa 1879; and John William Beaufort who was Norman's business partner at the time of his death. In addition to Norman, we have written a few words about these other early photographers, and about his family, several of whom seem to have been involved with the dyeing and glazing of fabric.
From the census, we think that we have discovered Norman's parents, brothers and a sister but some aspects of his life remain a mystery; do let us know if you can tell us more about either him or his family.
Norman John May was born In Cowgate Street, in the St Paul's district of Norwich, Norfolk on 13th October 1851 (ref 3) the son of John May, then a schoolmaster, and Hannah Priscilla Harris.
This was a time when photography was in its infancy. During Norman's lifetime photographs were mostly taken on glass plates coated with a light sensitive solution, which needed processing using possibly dangerous chemicals in a darkroom or portable tent.
Norman first appears in the census in 1861, aged 10 years, living with his parents in Cambridge (ref 6).
We have not found Norman in the 1871 census and he is next recorded in the Post Office directory of 1879 when he is a partner in the photographic firm May and Stowe, with offices in Worcester and Malvern. The London Gazette records that Norman's partnership with photographer Edwin Drury Stowe was dissolved by mutual consent in August 1879. Read more about E Drury Stowe below.
The Great Malvern section of a Worcestershire Trade directory of 1880 (ref 7)lists:
By 1881 his business had expanded to include photography, probably because many wealthy people who came to Malvern for the water cure would have liked, and paid, to have their portrait taken.
We were very fortunate to be sent an example of portraiture by Norman May's Studio by photographer and collector Steve Fox of Havant in Hampshire (ref 14). He had acquired the photo from an antique shop in Emsworth which is a small village near Chichester on the south coast.
Portrait of a man, circa 1880s, courtesy of Steve Frost
The rear of the photograph is inscribed:
To HRH The Prince of Wales
The Priory Mount
Copies may be had by quoting
The bottom of the card is marked in small writing,
Oborne London and Paris
Oborne was one of many suppliers of photographic card; one source suggests that photos bearing the imprint Oborne mostly date between 1876 and 1887.
(The firm may have been owned by Edwin Cecil Oborne (1843 - 1916). The 1881 census recorded him as a photographic stationer living at Ryde Vale Road, Streatham, while trade directories indicate his business, as a photographic mount manufacturers and photographic paper-makers, was at 26 Red Lion Square, Holborn. Late in life, Edwin married Sophia Wirdnam or Hall, in 1883. The 1891 census recorded Edwin as a wholesale export stationer. By 1901 he was living on own means, so possibly retired; his business was at some stage taken over by Edmund Alfred Ward, who, trading as Edwin Oborne and Co, went bankrupt in 1910, ref 15).
Do tell us if you know who the bearded gentleman in the portrait above might be.
The 1881 census provides further information about Norman:
Priory Mount is recorded in the census next to Gazebo House, and it was towards the top of Church Street, just below the present Boots the Chemist. In recent times the shop was a draper's named Sherwoods but it is now a boutique named Juno, see shop-front below.
'Juno Boutique' in 2016 once the site of Norman May's Studio
The original Victorian shop front of Norman Mays Studio continues to be well preserved by the owner of the present business which is featured in the January 2016 edition of Malvern Civic Society's newsletter.
Traces of Norman May's name can still be seen on the threshold as you enter the shop.
The owner of the shop very kindly showed us the fine stained glass in the window lights above the stairs - remember in those days there was no electricity, and natural lighting would have been an important feature.
One perhaps begins to appreciate the ambience Norman May must have created in his studio.
Close up of stained glass window
When Norman May first came to Malvern circa 1879, Priory Mount was one of a pair of terraced houses set back from the pavement by a garden and stone wall, and you will see that the shop front has been extended across the garden right up to the edge of the pavement - if you look up from the far side of the road you will see most of the terraced house still standing behind.
Boots now occupies the site of Lipton's supermarket, probably built in the 1960s in a utilitarian style somewhat out of keeping with the Victorian shop fronts.
Norman May had married Eliza Julia Royle, the daughter of tailor George Charles Royle, at Worcester in 1878.
Kelly's Trade directory of 1884 lists many photographers in Worcestershire, including Norman May, Priory Mount, Church Street, Great Malvern. His only competitor in Malvern at that time seems to have been 'Thomas Bennett and Son', Church Street, Great Malvern and 8 Broad Street, Worcester. (The 1881 census indicates the latter business was in fact run from Worcester by Thomas's widow Elizabeth J Bennett, assisted by her sons Thomas and Robert, and daughter Annie).
The Great Malvern section of Kellys 1884 Trade Directory is much more informative:
Kelly's Trade directory of 1888 simply lists May Norman & Co Ltd, photographers, Church Street.
One of his books, Norman May's Guide to Malvern, first published about 1884, is a marvellous resource for local historians containing many advertisements, illustrations, and interesting information about the area.
A biography of Cambridge Alumni (ref 4) records that Norman changed his name in 1887 to John Norman Lindley-Norman. What precipitated this we don't know, but it is of note that year his mother Hannah and sister Rosa died as did his wife's father. Norman's obituary (ref 7) suggested he was hoping to pursue a second career as a barrister and perhaps he thought that an implied family connection to Lord Justice Lindley would help.
The Cambridge biography further records that Norman had been educated at a school in Plymouth and was admitted (as a student) to the Inner Temple on July 8th 1877. Whether he qualified as a barrister we don't know, but following the death of his father in 1878 probably not. Interestingly the biography goes on to say that he entered Peterhouse College Cambridge from Fitzwilliam House Jan 23rd 1886, as a mature student, when he was aged 34 years. Fitzwilliam House had been opened in 1869 as a non-collegiate institution, in order to provide a Cambridge education to bright undergraduates who were unable to afford membership of a college.
While furthering his education, Norman May seems to have been content to leave his wife and business partner John Beaufort to run his photography business in Great Malvern which by then must have been well established.
The biography also mentioned that Norman was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (FRGS), and had published a book in 1888, O'er Summer Seas, about the cruise of the Ceylon to the Mediterranean.
The P&O steam yacht Ceylon 2,021 tons had been built in 1856 as a sailing ship, was later converted to steam power and had been sold to John L Clarke in 1881; it was then used for cruises around the Mediterranean.
In our opinion, the biographies of Cambridge Alumni are not always accurate, but a picture emerges of a man who wants to better himself and had established a profitable photographic business.
Norman John May of Priory Place, Malvern, Photographic Artist, was proposed for membership of Royds Lodge on 9 November 1882 and actually became a member on 11 January 1883. He resigned 8 November 1888, the year he changed his name to John Norman Lindley-Norman (ref 13).
The burial register of Great Malvern cemetery (ref 1) and the National Probate Calendar (ref 2) record that sadly John Norman Lindley-Norman, photographer, formerly Norman John May, died at Great Malvern on 19th June 1889 aged only 37 years and was buried in the municipal cemetery on 22nd of that month. The burial service was conducted by Rev Dr Isaac Gregory Smith, vicar of Great Malvern.
Norman left a personal estate of £3,322, a considerable sum in those days. Seven years later his widow Eliza remarried in 1896, auctioneer George Hodgkiss; Eliza Julia Hodgkiss died at Worcester in 1907 leaving an increased personal estate of £7,878. Perhaps she had inherited the photographic business after Norman May's death and continued to derive an income from it?
Knowing the day Norman died, we then visited Great Malvern library to look for a report in the local newspaper. Norman May's death was reported (ref 8) in the Illustrated Malvern Advertiser and General Weekly News, a forerunner of the Malvern Gazette, on Saturday 22nd June 1889.
A transcription from the microfiche at Great Malvern Library is below:
The following week, the Malvern Advertiser, contained a short report of his funeral, a solicitor's notice, and perhaps in slightly poor taste, a lengthy article about the refurbishment of the premises of Thomas Bennett and Co at the top of Church Street.
Also in the paper was a solicitors's notice:
Norman's obituary suggests to us that he died of tuberculosis; in those days tuberculosis was quite common, feared, and there was no cure for it. It is said that between 1851 and 1910, thirteen percent of all deaths were caused by tuberculosis, and of those who died in the age range 20 - 24 forty percent died of tuberculosis.
The 'memoire' in the newspaper suggests Norman may have been related in some way to Lord Chief Justice Lindley; we have have found no evidence of that, so possibly he made it up, although we cannot rule out this information could have been passed down by his mother.
The 'memoire' relates that Norman May had taken on a business partner, Mr Beaufort, under whom continued growth of the business could be expected. The reporter was wrong in this respect as Mr Beaufort left Malvern a year later; see below.
Now follows some information about other photographers Norman May would have had dealings with during his ten years in Malvern.
The Worcester index of artists 1790 - 1940 lists art photographer Francis Charles Earl; in 1873 he was at 46 Broad Street Worcester and 2 Priory Mount, Church Street, Malvern. In 1885 he was at 46 Broad Street only
A Trade directory of 1880 describes him as a photographic portraitist, miniature painter, landscape and architectural photographer of 46 Broad Street Worcester and Church Street Malvern, a business very similar to that of Norman May.
This points to Norman May taking over an established photographic studio, rather starting from scratch, possibly after working for Mr Earl.
Francis Charles Earl was not the first photographer to occupy Priory Mount. Thomas Bennett and Son established 1856 was one of the earliest photographers in Malvern, 1873 artist and photographer at 2 Priory Mount, Church Street and St Ann's Well and at Foregate Street, Worcs. - advertisement p57 Kelly's Directory 1879. In 1885 photographic and art studios, 8 Broad Street and Gazebo House, Church Street, Great Malvern. In 1888 at 8 Broad Street only. Business acquired in 1915 by WW Dowty.
Another early photographer was John Down who built a Camera Obscura at or near St Anne's Well.
The Worcester index of artists 1790 - 1940 lists two firms connected with Norman May:
We have not seen Kelly's Trade directory of 1879, but WE Owens directory of 1880 records:
In fact the partnership between May and Stowe had been dissolved the year before. The London Gazette August 29th 1879 reported:
Edwin Drury Stowe was an established photographer, 5 years older than Norman May, and perhaps Edwin helped Norman establish the photographic side of his business.
Edwin Drury Stowe was born in Cheltenham in 1846, the son of Commission Agent James Stockford Stowe. Trade directories record him living in High Street Tewkesbury for most of the 1870s, where he is at the time of the 1871 census.
In 1885 he was a photographer of 8, Castle Street Cirencester. By 1898 he had moved on again and he and his son Drury, who was born at Tewkesbury in 1875, were renting premises at 72 High Street, Bedford.
The National Archive lists accommodation relating to the lease of the premises at Bedford, which gives an indication of the extensive equipment needed to run a photographic business at that time. To quote:
Photographer Edwin Drury Stowe died in 1901 aged 55 years; the 1911 census recorded that his son Drury Stowe became a leather manufacturer.
We have identified Norman May's second business partner as John William Beaufort, born at Bradford in 1864. He was the third son of 'Tinner' John and Martha Boocock; his mother died soon after he was born and his father married in 1881 Eliza Turner.
The 1881 census recorded John as an artist, living at home. In 1889 he married Lucy Anne Ostcliffe, the daughter of an innkeeper, at Bradford Cathedral. At some stage, prior to his marriage, he had obviously changed his surname, no doubt in order to advance his career. His marriage certificate confirms that he was a photographer living at Priory Mount, Malvern.
About 1890, after Norman May's death, John went to work for the famous photographic firm Elliott and Fry, in Birmingham and he became Managing Director from 1915 to 1926.
In 1893 he had joined the Freemasons (St Paul's Lodge, Birmingham).
John and Lucy had two sons, Percival Stanley born at Malvern in 1890 and Harold Ostcliffe, born at Birmingham in 1894.
During WWI, Percy Stanley Beaufort joined the Artists Rifles as a Private, and in 1917 was transferred into the Royal Flying Corps as a communications equipment officer. He survived the war and in 1920 was living in Birmingham.
Sadly his younger brother 2nd Lt Harold Ostcliffe Beaufort, 1/6th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) was killed in action on the 13th October 1915 just seven days short of his 21st birthday. He had attended Wrekin College and another website records his story and that of others who lost their lives in WWI.
After WWI, John William Beaufort is noted to have painted a portrait of famous naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace (1823 - 1913) who was a contemporary of Charles Darwin. The painting was based on a photograph of Wallace taken in 1903 by the photographic firm Elliott & Fry; the painting was presented to the Natural History Museum in 1923, click to read report in Times.
John William Beaufort, artist and photographer, died at Weybridge in 1943.
The local reference section of Great Malvern library holds a great deal of information about the history of the town, including old maps, newspapers on microfiche, trade directories, and histories written in more recent times. Amongst these is a little gem, 'Norman May's Guide to Malvern' first published about 1884. The library copies may have been rebound, as the original guide, priced one shilling, had patterned not plain covers.
It is a pocket sized book containing the advertisements of shop-keepers, hotels and boarding house keepers, maps, illustrations and information about the town, where to go and what to see. The title page (see front-piece below) says the guide is illustrated with maps, plans, woodcuts and photographs. In fact there are only two photographs and these are glued into the book. One is of a young girl (we wondered who she was) and the second is a photograph taken from the tower of the Priory church, looking across the top of Church Street and Belle Vue Terrace towards North Hill.
A better copy of the view towards North Hill (shown below) is held by Malvern Museum. Click photo to enlarge.
The remainder of the illustrations were most probably produced from woodcutt engravings; for example see the illustration of the Abbey Gateway below.
One page shows the map of Malvern as it was circa 1886, see below. The road system is very similar 130 years later but there are some points to note. Court Road was in Victorian times named Pool End Street, and Clarence Road was named Mill Lane. Avenue Road seems only to come down as far as Great Malvern station, and so we wonder if the lower half of Avenue Road below the station was built later. Click image to enlarge.
In the guide are two advertisements for Norman May's Studio. One, shown at the top of this article, is a full page advertisement which appears at both the front and back of the guide largely repeating the information in the trade directory of 1884. The second, shown opposite, is an advertisement for an illustrated Pictorial sheet of Malvern. The advertisement reads:
If you are interested to learn more about the history of the area you will find Norman May's Guide to Malvern a good read.
According to his birth certificate, confirmed by a record of the students of Cambridge University, Norman John May was born at Norwich on 13th October 1851. The 1861 census records him as the son of Henry John and Hannah May then residing in Cambridge at 16 Church Street. Henry John May is then described as an Artist (portrait).
Norman May's mother was born in Norwich, and it's possible she either named her son after a former mayor John Norman (1657 -1724) who being childless left a trust for the education of his near relatives, now known as Alderman Norman's Foundation, or her brother, John Norman Harris.
The census records tell us Norman John May (the eldest child) had three brothers and a sister. Norman and his youngest brother Walter were the only ones to marry and, as far as we know, they had no children.
Norman and his siblings were short lived and we think it likely that they all died of tuberculosis.
Not much is known about Norman's father who on the birth certificate, and in the 1851 census, is recorded as schoolmaster John May, and later as Henry John May.
The 1851 census recorded a schoolmaster, John May, living with wife Hannah in Little Bull Street, in the St Paul's district of Norwich.
We had not found a record of John May's marriage in the Ancestry copy of the index of marriages, but later discovered a marriage listed in Free BMD, which was registered Norwich in the first quarter of 1851, Vol 13, Page 441. Local historian Chris Bannister has obtained a copy of the marriage certificate that confirms that school teacher John May and Hannah Harris, both of Cowgate Street, St Paul's, Norwich married on 1st January 1851 (ref 11).
John May's father was recorded as Thomas May, a farmer; but as we have been unable to find him in the records, this sheds little light on how John May first became a schoolteacher. Hannah's father was described as John Harris, a dyer.
We don't know at what school John taught, or what subject; nor do we know what caused John to become an artist - a change of career which would have been considered a risky venture bearing in mind he had a wife and children to support, unless of course he had capital to fall back on.
Perhaps John May studied part time at the Norwich School of Design, which had been founded in 1845 by followers of the Norwich School of Painters; nowadays Norwich University of the Arts. Possibly also, through his wife's family, he had met artists engaged in the design, colouring and printing of fabrics.
Henry John May appears twice in the 1871 census.
In one record he is listed with his wife and children at 21 Longfield Terrace, Plymouth, Devon where he is described as an Artist (Eng); possibly an engraver.
In a second record he is residing in East Street, Ashburton, some 20 miles north east of Plymouth, describing himself as an Artist and Photographer; with him is his son Thomas aged 17 years, also described as a Photographer, suggesting that on census night they could have been away from home on business.
The index of deaths records Henry John May died at Plymouth in 1878 aged 56 years.
We think Norman's mother Hannah Priscilla Harris (1826 - 1887) was baptised Anna Priscilla Harris at St George's church, Colegate, Norwich on 22nd October 1826.
She was the eldest child of Bombazine Dyer, John Harris and Ann Cox. Bombazine, now obsolete, was a woven fabric used to make ladies' dresses.
Hannah had a sister Priscilla, and four brothers, Joseph Peter, Samuel Ebeneezer, John Norman, and Norman Atterton. Sadly Hannah's mother died in 1841 following the birth of Norman Atterton and he died the next year. Hannah's father died in 1849 and so the family was forced to split up.
Hannah married John May; Priscilla, a governess and a witness at Hannah's wedding, went to live in Hertfordshire with her aunt Zilpah who had married farmer Thomas Cornwell; Joseph Peter (1831 - 1892) married Amelia Sarah Wood in 1857 and became a schoolmaster; Samuel (1838 - 1911) went to live with his married uncle Ebeneezer in Colchester who was a Dyer, before marrying and eventually becoming a mercantile clerk. The 1851 census records that John Norman Harris (1840 - 1899), described as an orphan, was taken in by Norwich accountant John Barnard and his wife Charlotte; he became a chintz glazer and in 1860 married Maria Snell Doran, the daughter of chintz glazer John George Doran.
Hannah and her husband, John, seem to have moved around a fair bit. In 1851, newly married, they were living in Norwich; in 1853 they were in Kent; in 1861 they were in Cambridge, and in 1871 the family was in Plymouth. The 1881 census records Hannah, now a widow, still living in Plymouth at 44 Park Street, three years after her husband's death, with three of her children: Frederick, a photographic retoucher, Rosa, a photographic colorist, and Walter, an assistant librarian.
Hannah died at Fulham in the last quarter of 1887, not long after her unmarried daughter Rosa, who had died at Fulham in the second quarter of that year.
None of Norman's siblings lived into middle age, suggesting either an illness such as tuberculosis, a hereditary factor, or poisoning from photographic chemicals - tuberculosis seems to us to be the most likely explanation.
Norman John May, the eldest, was born at Norwich on 13th October 1851 and died at Great Malvern on 19th June 1889 aged 37 years.
Thomas Henry May was born at West Malling Kent about 1854. The 1871 census recorded him as a photographer aged 17 years. Very sadly the National Probate Calendar records that photographer Thomas Henry May died shortly before his father on 5th April 1878 at 6 Marina Terrace, Plymouth. His executor was his eldest brother Norman then a photographer of 16 Chestnut Walk, Worcester.
Frederick Joseph May, who was born West Malling Kent about 1856, died at Reading in 1890 aged only 34 years.
Rosa Alice May who was born at Cambridge about 1861, died at Fulham in 1887 aged only 26 years; her mother Hannah died the same year.
Walter Harris May, the youngest, who was born at Plymouth, Devon, about 1865, died at Chelsea in 1891 aged only 26 years. Some weeks earlier the 1891 census had recorded photographer Walter May and his wife Edith, born Southwold, Suffolk, staying in Great Malvern at Norfolk Villa on the Worcester Road. Perhaps either Walter had come for the water cure, or to visit his brother Norman's widow, or he had inherited an interest in Norman May's studio.
Connection to the family of Lord Justice Lindley
We have searched for a direct connection between the families of Norman May and Lord Justice Lindley and found none. It seems very unlikely they were either first or second cousins, so if there were a connection it was further back.
Sir Nathaniel Lindley (1828 - 1921) was born on 29th November at Acton. His father was the famous botanist John Lindley who was born at Catton, Norfolk in 1799, the son of nurseryman George Lindley and Mary Moore.
Perhaps there was a connection of the female lines going back possibly to the wider family of John Norman, mayor of Norwich, but we will leave that for others to investigate!
The photographic business known as Norman May's Studio continued to trade for many years after Norman's death.
On 12th December 1891 an advertisement appeared in the Malvern Advertiser, of which the following is a transcription:
Later, a trade directory of 1924 records,
Norman May's Studio, Church Street, Great Malvern and Hereford TN 135
A directory of 1932 simply records,
May's Studio, Church Street, Great Malvern
We have been told that in the 1950s Norman May's had a studio on Belle Vue Terrace, where there is a picture framer now.
The 1983 telephone directory (ref 10) records,
Norman Mays, photographer and photographic dealers, 241 Worcester Road, Malvern Link, Telephone 4522.
Nowadays 'Norman Mays' is a business based in Worcestershire, specializing in schools' photography. Roy McAdam has very kindly sent information about owners of the business between 1945 and the present time (ref 12), but ownership during the period 1889 - 1945 remains a mystery.
Do let us know if you can add to this account, or have a photo of either Norman May or his business partner John Beaufort.
Last updated 24th February 2017