Francis Frith was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He became a photographer of the Middle East and many towns in the United Kingdom. Francis Frith came from a Quaker family, Edward Fox being a frequent visitor to their home, and was a deeply religious man, a preacher and writer of prose and verse in his spare time. As was to be expected he was a devoted family man, and often took his family with him on his photographic tours in Britain. The party usually included his wife, six children, two servants and four photographic assistants.
When he had finished his travels in the Middle East in 1859, he opened the firm of F. Frith & Co. in Reigate, Surrey. In 1860, he married Mary Ann Rosling (daughter of Alfred Rosling, the first treasurer of the Photographic Society) and embarked upon a colossal project — to photograph every town and village in the United Kingdom, in particular notable historical or interesting sights. Initially he took the photographs himself, but as success came, he hired people to help him and set about establishing his postcard company, a firm that became one of the largest photographic studios in the world. Within a few years, over two thousand shops throughout the United Kingdom were selling his postcards.
Frith died in Reigate in 1898. His family continued the firm, which was finally sold in 1968, and closed in 1971.
The closure of the original company and the probable abandonment of the unique historical and contemporary Archive was case for great concern. It was largely due to the perseverance of the photographic historian Bill Jay, that the Archive survived. He enlisted the help of a London advertising agency who approached Rothmans the tobacco company who bought and saved the Collection. After a number of vicissitudes the Collection was bought by John Buck in 1977 who formed the present day company which continues to publish photographs in the Frith tradition.
Today the F.Frith & Co. archive provides a valuable record of the physical and social changes that have taken place in the towns, villages and countryside of Britain between 1860 and 1970. The Collection includes photographs taken of streets, buildings and scenic views from identical or closely related viewpoint at time intervals. These make interesting and instructive comparisons possible and provide a detailed topographical record of changes in building design and construction, street furniture, dress and fashion, transport and business.
Francis Frith Collection
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