Thursday, 8 June 2017

Out with the photographer Robert Banks on the streets of Manchester sometime before 1912

Now I can be fairly confident that Mr Banks took this picture of Oxford Street sometime before 1912, but more about that later.

In the meantime I shall start with the man himself who had one of those remarkable careers which seemed to epitomise the self made Victorian man.*

He stands alongside some of our other Manchester photographers.**

He was born in 1847, he father was a journeyman carpenter and at the age of 15 he was working as a woollen piecer in a mill.*

And yet within a few years he had become an illustrator on the Oldham Chronicle and at 21 had opened a photographic business on the High Street in Uppermill all of which was but a prelude to a successful career in Manchester.

Having set up business in the city in 1873, he quickly won a series of commissions and as they say never looked back.

During the rest of the century and into the next he photographed many of the most important events that occurred in the city and was quick to issue these in collections for sale.

And never one to miss an opportunity I am told that having taken pictures of the unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria he made a special journey to Windsor Castle and presented them to the Royal Family.***

But he will also be remembered for a wonderful collection of street scenes like this one of “Oxford Street from Whitworth Street. [Showing] on the left St Mary’s Hospital and Total’s Warehouse, and on the right the Theatre of Varieties and St James’s Hall, with St Peter’s Church in the distance.”

It is a scene few now remember.

St Peter’s Church and the hospital were demolished a long time ago and the elaborate facade of what is now the Palace Theatre disappeared behind those drab tiles in 1957.

And what no one will now  recognise is the building beyond the theatre with its tall clock tower, for this was St James’s Hall, built in 1884, closed in 1907 and briefly reopened as a cinema in 1908 and was replaced in 1912 by St James’s Buildings which still stand on the site today.

Something of what the hall was like can be seen from the Gould’s Fire Insurance Map which dates from around 1900.

But that is enough for now.  My friend Sally has kindly given me more of Mr Bank’s pictures from a collection she bought and I now have a promise of some of his earlier photographs taken in Saddleworth which the Museum there has promised to pass over.

So it rather looks as if there will be lots more of Robert Banks to come.

And as often happens, someone has helped with the story.  Lee Hutchins has written that "St Peters Church in the distance was taken down in January 1907 and St Mary's Hospital to the left was completed in 1901 so taken between 1901 and 1906"

Pictures;, Oxford Street before 1912, courtesy of Sally Dervan and detail of St James’s Hall from Gould’s Fire Insurance Map, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*Robert Banks,

**Manchester artist and photographers,

***from a conversation with James Stanhope-Brown who also told me that sadly there is no reference in the Royal collection to the event.  He has also published Manchester From the Robert Banks Collection, in 2011, the History Press

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