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Directory of Early Photographers in Cambridgeshire, Studio Notes, Lilian Ream

Lilian Ream has been the subject of three books:

  • Reams of Wisbech – Scenes from a Fenland studio (Eric Golding: Cambridgeshire Libraries and Information Service, 1987)
  • Lilian Ream: a life in photography (Violet Fosbrook-Ream, with David Rayner & Kim Bowden: Cambridgeshire County Council Libraries & Information Service, 1992)
  • From cradle to grave in a Fenland town: Wisbech photographed by Lilian Ream (Colin Wilkinson & Robert Bell: Bluecoat Press, 2010)

[The third title is best for illustrations of Ream’s work, but the second is most useful for tracing her life and career. The Wilkinson & Bell book is much indebted to it for biographical information, and so are these notes.]


born, Lilian Pratt, 1877

married Sydney Ream, 1905

died 1961

Lilian Pratt began work as an apprentice in Alfred Drysdale’s studio at Lynn Road, Wisbech, in 1894. She continued to work in the studio under Hardingham Mehew, and she also worked for Leonard Smith, when he took over the business. Her time with Smith must, however, have been brief, as she went on to complete her training at the Borough Studio with John Kennerell, before Lawrence Brown succeeded him quite early in the new century.

Her employment with Brown continued until 1908, when he took her into partnership with him. But the arrangement was short-lived, and a dispute over financial matters led to her resignation. The partnership was dissolved on 9th April 1909, and, four days later, Lilian Ream opened her own studio at 4 The Crescent.

Initially the new address served as both home and business premises, but during the First World War Ream bought the next-door property, number 5, which became the family home. Number 4 was then wholly given over to studio business.

The immediate post-war period was one of expansion. When Lawrence Brown’s business failed, Lilian Ream took on the Borough Studio lease from the new owner and later acquired the freehold. She bought out Leonard Smith, whose studio was in Lynn Road, but kept him on there as an employee. She took over the Alexandra Road Art Studio, which had formerly been occupied by Jasper Wright (a King’s Lynn photographer who, like her, was something of an empire builder). She also acquired the studio business of the Imperial Photo Company at 50 Market Place, though its principals, H Coates and Sons, continued to operate as postcard publishers.

The late 1920s, however, saw a programme of consolidation. The Borough Studio (of which Ream now had the freehold) became the focus of her activity, and the other addresses were disposed of. (The Crescent premises were turned into flats.) But becoming a single-studio operation didn't mean becoming a small operation. A 1929 staff photo shows four Reams, all active in the business, and thirteen non-family employees.

Then, in the early 1930s, the Reams separated. Lilian retired to Eastbourne, leaving Sydney and their son, Roland, to run the Borough Studio. They were supported by Alan Midlane – who handled the outside work and the framing – and Hugh Bennett – who managed the studio and the darkrooms. Lilian’s retirement did not, however, last very long. In 1935, at the age of 58, she returned to Wisbech and took up the reins again. Sydney withdrew from the business, but Roland continued with the firm and was joined, in 1936, by his new wife, Violet.

In 1949, aged 72, Lilian Ream retired again and went back to Eastbourne, where she died in 1961. Business continued at the Borough Studio under Roland and Violet and, in due course, their son Roger. It eventually closed in 1971.

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www.earlyphotostudios.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, listing photographers operating 1840-1916, in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rutland and Suffolk. The original site was researched and written in 2011 by the late Robert Pols, photo historian and author, and this re-constructed site is dedicated to his memory.

This page was last modified: 02 September 2022, 16:26

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