Wallasey People

Priestley and Sons

by Michael G. Priestley

My great grandfather moved to Wallasey in 1885, having set up as a photographer in Huddersfield nearly thirty years earlier. Establishing a studio on the corner of Falkland Road and Brighton Street, he and his son Arthur, who had completed an apprenticeship at Medrington’s, in Bold Street, Liverpool, set about becoming the leading professional photography business in the town, surviving the First World War but folding just before the Second. Their day to day business was primarily concerned with sittings for family groups and events, but they also took photographs of many local scenes and they accepted commissions for Cunard White Star and Wallasey Corporation amongst others.

Samuel Priestley Arthur Priestley
Samuel Priestley (1826-1891)
Arthur Priestley (1863-1940)

Photographs of Liverpool, shipping on the Mersey, the embarkation of troops for the Boer War from Liverpool and Birkenhead docks, the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, as well as many images of old Wallasey have survived. My dad and Arthur’s only son, Gordon Priestley, a proud Wallaseyan himself, chose not to take on the family business, but he became the guardian of the remaining collection of approximately 500 images, mostly single copies made from the original plates, none of which have survived, to my knowledge. A considerable tranche of about eighty Priestley photographs, sold very early on in the life of the limited company, found its way eventually as a donation to the Wirral Museum, where I inspected them in the old Birkenhead Town Hall a few years ago. Over previous decades my dad had lost quite a few original prints, because he lent out examples to anyone who showed any interest in them, whether for personal or research purposes, because unfortunately recipients were not always as trustworthy as he was trusting of them. The original company records are intact and indicate the changing fortunes of the business as those concerned responded to circumstances caused by world war and then economic depression.

Priestley's Studio
1, Falkland Road
Priestley's Studio

This wonderful shot is taken from the roof of the New Brighton Tower Ballroom, which I remember well from my own childhood in Wallasey, looking out over the pier and the landing stage for the ferry to Liverpool. It is an almost identically positioned view to the 1950’s New Brighton railway poster from a painting by L.A. Wilcox which I have framed on the wall in our lounge at home.

New Brighton Scene

Other photographs in the collection were brought home from the colonies by a relation of the Priestleys, John Collier North. He was employed by Her Majesty’s Indian Navy and he visited West Africa, the Red Sea Coast and Ceylon, bringing back with him remarkable pictures, mostly recording his travels, but also some bought examples produced by leading photographers of the day, including this one by Skeen and Co.

Snake Charmers

I have written two books containing Priestley and Sons photographs. The first,

Merseyside in Monochrome

is published by and obtainable direct from Countyvise of Birkenhead.

The second deals with the pictures the company took which were not of Merseyside locations, featuring Chester, Malvern and Conway and also the North family contribution from overseas. It is called

The Priestley Collection
Scenes from a Victorian Photograph Album

and is due for publication in late 2012. I would be delighted to hear from anyone with any particular interest in the Priestley photographs. I am happy to provide scans for personal use or research purposes of any specific images in my possession as email attachments for no charge.

I can be contacted via www.michaelgpriestleybooks.co.uk and at michaelgpriestley@live.co.uk

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