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Knight who archived a time long ago; Carl Chinn looks at the life of the Royal photographer Sir Benjamin Stone.

Sir Benjamin Stone, the famed photographer and politician was a famed resident of Birmingham in the 19th century. Named John Benjamin Stone, he was born in the parish of Aston on February 9, 1838, the son of Benjamin Stone and his wife, Rebecca, who was from Stourport, Worcestershire. Benjamin Stone came from a part of the Black Country that was well known for glass making and in Birmingham he was a clerk at a glass works - as was his oldest his son, James. The family also . By 1860 he was noted as the manager of the Union Glass Works in nearby Dartmouth Street, which was owned by George Bacchus and Sons. This was one of a number of celebrated manufactories in Birmingham, so much so that it was on the itinerary for Prince Albert when he visited Birmingham in November 1843.

By the time of the 1861 Census, Benjamin Stone the elder was still living in Lupin Street but now he was recorded as a master glass manufacturer employing 80 men, 17 boys and eight women. Aged 23, John Benjamin was still at home and was also given as a glass manufacturer (master). Father and son were partners in the business of Stone, Fawdry and Stone, which had recently taken over the Bacchus business. The third person involved was Frederick Fawdry, who was married to Stone senior's oldest daughter, Catherine.

Fawdry's father, James Goodwin Fawdry, was well known in Birmingham as a baker, having premises in Aston Street, Great Hampton Street and Navigation Street. In 1855 it seems that he retired and the partnership he had with his sons was dissolved. Each then took on one of the premises, with Frederick having the one in Great Hampton Street, which was also a corn factors.

It seems likely that the Stones provided the skills needed for running the glass works while Fawdry supplied the capital. It was a wise move for Fawdry did very well out of his association. When he died in 1867 he owned a 25 acres estate at Sheldon. On it he had built a substantial house that boasted not only six bedrooms but also a bathroom and a water closet. In addition he was able to leave the huge sum of PS2,000 to various charities such as the General Hospital.

As for the younger Benjamin Stone, he soon became well respected in his trade. He went on to be a juror at a number of important exhibitions in London, Edinburgh, and Paris and was made master of the court of the Glass Sellers' Company in 1882.

In June 1867, Stone married Jane Parker from Yorkshire and four years later they were living in Aston Village - probably in a large house in what would be called The Retreat. They had three young children and three servants. Interestingly Jane was given as a paper maker. It was unusual for a married middle-class woman to be noted in the census with an occupation but certainly she and her husband had become involved in the firm of Smith, Stone, and Knight, which had a large paper mill in Landor Street.

The Birmingham Mail later explained that there was a romance to the origins of this business. As a youngster, Stone had attended King Edward's School in New Street along with a lad called Smith and one named Fred Knight. The three of them made a pact that one day they would all be in trade together in one concern and sink or swim together.

Smith's father was a nephew of James Baldwin who owned a large paper works in Kings Norton and the youngster went to work there after finishing school. After gaining his experienced in the trade he persuaded Stone's father, who was pretty well off by then, to invest in a paper mill. Knight was then employed in the council's water department offices in Broad Street, but he became a partner with Smith and the younger Stone. The paper mill flourished and more were opened and the three families enjoyed ample fortunes.

Waxing wealthy, the Stones continued their move into bigger houses in more comfortable surroundings further away from Birmingham and by 1881 they were living in The Grange in Grange Lane, Erdington. Stone now described himself as a County Magistrate and a flint glass manufacturer. He and his wife had six children aged 12 and under and they employed a governess, a cook, a parlour maid, and a house maid, all of whom lived in. Nearby at The Cedars lived the famed gunmaker William Greener.

Stone's success in business at a comparatively young age allowed him to devote his time to other matters. In particular he became active in political and municipal affairs. He was an ardent Conservative at a time when Birmingham was a Liberal stronghold. Despite this in 1869 he was elected to the town council for the working-class ward of Duddeston - within which his glass works was located.

this in 1869 he was elected to the town council for the working-class ward of Duddeston - within which his glass works was located.

For a time, Stone was one of only two Conservative councillors in Birmingham but served diligently on various committees. He left the council in 1878, but soon returned to public life when he was elected to the Aston Board of Guardians. He also served on Sutton Coldfield Council, and in 1886 he was chosen unanimously as the first mayor of the borough. Stone held this office for five years and was then presented with the freedom of the town.

For a time, Stone was one of only two Conservative councillors in Birmingham but served diligently on various committees. He left the council in 1878, but soon returned to public life when he was elected to the Aston Board of Guardians. He also served on Sutton Coldfield Council, and in 1886 he was chosen unanimously as the first mayor of the borough. Stone held this office for five years and was then presented with the freedom of the town.

For the ten years from 1874 he was president of the Birmingham Conservative Association and he remodelled its local organisation in imitation of the highly-successful Liberal Party, with a system of ward committees overseen by a central executive.

For the ten years from 1874 he was president of the Birmingham Conservative Association and he remodelled its local organisation in imitation of the highly-successful Liberal Party, with a system of ward committees overseen by a central executive.

After Joseph Chamberlain broke with the Liberal Party in the mid-1880s over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland, he started a new party called the Liberal Unionists and led them into alliance with the local Conservatives. From the beginnings of the alliance it dominated municipal and parliamentary elections in and around Birmingham. In 1895, Stone, who had been knighted three years before, was returned unopposed as After Joseph Chamberlain broke with the Liberal Party in the mid-1880s over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland, he started a new party called the Liberal Unionists and led them into alliance with the local Conservatives. From the beginnings of the alliance it dominated municipal and parliamentary elections in and around Birmingham. In 1895, Stone, who had been knighted three years before, was returned unopposed as MP for East Birmingham. He retired on account of ill health in 1910.

But it is as a photographer rather than as a politician or a businessman that Stone is best remembered. Called the "knight of the camera" by The Spectator, his interest in photography had begun in the later 1860s when he had begun to collect photos. By the 1880s he was taking his own and as he told Tit-Bits in April 1898: "my photographic work has been done with the intention of securing records for my scientific investigation, and not merely for the pleasure of a photograph in itself. I look upon photography as being a most valuable aid to education because pictorial illustration is by far the easiest mode and pleasant manner of obtaining instruction".

The founder of the Photographic Record Association, Stone was also the first president of the Birmingham Photographic Society. He had a deep concern for British heritage and his photographic collection included records of many British customs and festivals as well as of parliament and parliamentarians and of public buildings like Westminster Abbey. He also took photographs of royal palaces, while those of the coronations of Edward VII and George V caused him to become known as the royal photographer.

'' I look upon photography being a most valuable aid education pictorial is by far the mode and manner of instruction Seven years after his death the trustees of his estate presented to Birmingham Reference Library his collection of 22,000 photographs, 600 stereographs, 2500 lantern slides, 17,000 glass negatives, 50 albums of collected prints, and 50 volumes of press cuttings relating to his work. These remain in the care of the city's library and archive departments. This massive collection includes topographical and other photographs relating to Europe, North and South America, India and Australasia.

Stone was widely travelled and was a fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Historical Society. He was never without his camera and notebook on his journeys. In 1890 he went as photographer with the Royal Astronomical Society to Brazil and during the trip he persuaded rebels to postpone their shelling of government positions so that he could photograph them.

as Sir Benjamin died at The Grange on July 2, 1914. His wife was seriously ill and did not know of his death; she died four days later and was buried with him in Sutton Coldfield graveyard. After his death the Birmingham Daily Post praised him as a versatile and conscientious photographer through whose work "all the world has been enabled to see the pageantry of great state occasions, and whose perseverance has preserved records of many the most important events of his time".

to because illustration easiest pleasant obtaining In Birmingham, however, he came into the public view in other capacities, and as a manufacturer, politician, municipal worker and philanthropist he influenced the public life in many directions.

? Next Saturday, December 20, Carl will be at WH Smith's at Union Street in town between 10.30 am and noon signing copies of his new book The Real Peaky Blinders. Billy Kimber, the Birmingham Gang and the Racecourse Wars of the 1920s' (Brewin Books PS12.95).

'' I look upon photography as being a most valuable aid to education because pictorial illustration is by far the easiest mode and pleasant manner of obtaining instruction

CAPTION(S):

Sir Benjamin Stone (left) at The Grange around the turn of the century |

Women rag sorters at Smith, Stone and Knight in Landor Street in the 1890s

The House of Commons in sitting, the Rev Jesse Collings in the chair, August |1903

Boys' classroom, Mason's Orphanage, Erdington, Birmingham, 1908 |

Old Bag Room, Smith, Stone and Knight's Paper Mill, Saltley, 1895. Inset: Sir Benjamin Stone | Old Bag Room, Smith, Stone and Knight's Paper Mill, Saltley, 1895. Inset: Sir Benjamin Stone |
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 13, 2014
Words:1854
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