Portraits by forgotten Hampstead photographer reveal snapshot of 18th century life at demolished Manor House

Percy Neate

Percy Neate - Credit: Archant

Little is known about Victorian photographer Emma Frances Johnston, but next month more than 350 portraits she took at her family’s Hampstead home will go on sale, revealing a vivid snapshot of suburban family life in the 19th century.

Mr Horn and his neice and other family friends

Mr Horn and his neice and other family friends - Credit: Archant

Dated between 1858 and 1864, the majority of the photos were shot at the Manor House in North End Road and feature family, friends and prominent visitors to the house such as William Wardell – the architect of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and St Patrick’s in Melbourne – geologist-palaeontologist Frederick Edwards and London Zoo curator George Waterhouse.

The portraits – taken shortly after the introduction of the wet collodion photographic process in the 1850s, which signalled a new wave of amateur photographers – actually pre-date Hampstead’s incorporation into the county of London and were largely taken outdoors against a strung-up blanket in the Manor’s spacious gardens. In addition to Manor House, some pictures also make reference to a property on Pond Street.

Lost figure

Charlie the good

Charlie the good - Credit: Archant

Auctioneers Bonhams are selling the photographs on November 12 for an estimated sum of £10,000-15,000 and describe Johnston as “one of the lost figures of 19th century photography”. The Hampstead resident came from a comfortable middle-class family; alongside sister Jane, she was one of the two children of James, a solicitor, and Mary, and remained unmarried until her death at the reputed age of 71 in 1905.

Because of this, few records of her appear to have been kept and she may well have been born before the introduction of civil registration. The greatest sense of her character therefore remains in her photos, which often saw her sit for self-portraits and show an informal, playful fascination for the new medium that even stretched to include her dog, Juno.

The life and fate of Manor House is clearer. Johnston eventually moved out of the property and during the First World War, the estate was commandeered by the War Office and developed into Manor House Hospital, which specialised in treating injured servicemen.

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Over time, the hospital grounds grew to take over nearby Ivy House, which had once been owned by renowned ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Shortly before the turn of the century, however, the institution was placed into voluntary liquidation and closed, before being demolished and redeveloped into Manor Heights, a luxury garden estate.

Hawkes family and Bingley

Hawkes family and Bingley - Credit: Archant

Bonhams’ Head of Books, Mathew Haley, says: “Emma Johnston stands in a great tradition of Victorian women photographers.

“Unlike her famous contemporaries, Lady Hawarden, admired for her technical and artistic achievements, and Julia Margaret Cameron, who gained recognition for her celebrity portraits, Emma was chiefly concerned with the daily round of her own social circle which may explain why this most talented of amateurs has been unjustly neglected.”

To see the auction page, visit bonhams.com/auctions/21764/lot/87/

87 Manor House i

87 Manor House i - Credit: Archant