A good number of the York photographs of London have survived in the
collection of the National Monuments Record. A short biography and references is given in the RCS/Cambridge catalogue.
Frederick York, the founder of the firm, was born in Bridgwater in 1820. In 1839, at the age of 16, he was apprenticed to a chemist in
Bristol. Photography was invented the same year, and it is likely that he
became involved in photographic chemistry.
In 1853, Frederick York emigrated with his wife to South Africa, where
he set up a photographic business. This was successful, but he ran short of materials from time to time. His knowledge of chemistry was put to good use in converting Mexican silver dollars into silver nitrate, essential for the photographic process. He returned to England in 1861,
accompanied by his two sons, William (born 1855) and Edward (born
He set up as a Photographic Publisher at 10 Lancaster Road, Notting Hill (re-numbered in 1868 to No. 87). From there in 1862 he began to issue photographs of London. Stereo views and lantern slides were produced and met with success. The London set was expanded to over 1,300 views and other towns were similarly covered. Slides, however, were most in demand and it was on the production of these that the firm concentrated. By 1910, there were 33,000 slides on offer.
In 1884, York & Son established a factory in Bridgwater at 32 Friarn Street. By 1893, an estimated 100,000 glass lantern slides per year were being produced at the factory, which by then included the adjacent property No. 30. Mr York estimated that his total output between 1870 and 1896, if placed in a continuous line, would stretch from London to Manchester (184 mile), or. if placed on one another, would form a column 20,846 foot high. The weight of this output was 93 ton (which may explain why the floors in 32 Friarn Street are a little bowed).
A contemporary description of the factory was published in 1893, and is reproduced here.
An annotated plan of the buildings at No. 32 and No. 30 Friarn Street in
1895/6 is also available: please
Frederick York died at the age of 83 in 1903. There is a commemorative window in the
catholic church in Bridgwater. His son, William, took over the business.
However, the lantern slide declined in popularity, and the firm went into
voluntary liquidation in 1912. It was sold to Newton & Co for
£250. The new owners continued to trade under the name of York &
Son, but closed the Bridgwater factory in 1912 or early 1913 and moved the
London offices and studio to 3 Emperor's Gate, South Kensington. Finally,
the firm closed in the late 1940s when Newtons were taken over by AEI. It is
said that the York slides and negatives were dumped in the Thames, as being
of no use to their new owners.