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Directory of Early Photographers, Studio Folder, Sawyer and Bird, Norwich and Elsewhere

Timeline: J R Sawyer

John Robert Mather Sawyer (1828-1889)

(This timeline does not claim to be a full biography of Sawyer. It simply presents some accumulated information and sources in chronological order. It represents work in progress and may be amended or augmented in the future. Where primary sources have been used, references are given; where no references are given, information should be regarded as subject to verification. For details of his work in partnership, see the Sawyer and Bird timeline.)


August 27

Christened, Sheffield.


June 6 (Census: HO107/1337/2:13/18)

With his parents, John and Jane, in Sheffield High Street.


Date unknown

Said to have placed his earliest advertisements as photographer. But these have yet to be found, and information from the 1851 census makes their existence seem open to question.


March 30 (Census HO107/1529/155/12)

Silk warehouseman, living with many other warehousemen at 39 &40, Old Change, in the City of London. (His parents, at this time, were in Bermondsey –HO107/1560/288/19)


January 29 (Norfolk Chronicle)

An advertisement for rented premises in London Street, Norwich, referred to ‘a shop, Cellar and dwelling place, late in the occupation of Mr Sawyer, Cutler & Instrument Maker’. But this may have been John Sawyer’s father, who moved to Norwich at some time between the 1851 and 1861 censuses.

February 14 (Parish register: South Hackney, Middlesex)

John Robert Sawyer, warehouseman of Bethnal Green, of full age, son of John Sawyer, cutler, married Laura Bumpstead, 18, of Ash Grove, daughter of Edmund Bumpstead, manufacturer. Witnesses: Edmund and Louisa Bumpstead.

December 10 (Norfolk News and Norfolk Chronicle)

Sawyer advertised a photographic studio at 42 London Street, Norwich. (These are the earliest verified records of him, so far, as a photographer.)


January 16 (Norwich Mercury)

An advertisement referred to his ‘residence of three years in Norwich’.

March 15 (Norfolk Chronicle)

Article praising Sawyer’s work.

March 22 (Norfolk Chronicle)

The paper praised Sawyer’s portrait of Mr George Dawson: ‘a most striking likeness of this gentleman’.

March 27 (Norfolk News)

Sawyer was one of three photographers who exhibited portraits at the Norwich School of Art’s annual soirée.

October 11 (Norfolk News)

He had recently returned from Paris and London.

Nov 17 [until 16 Feb 1767] (Photographic Exhibitions in Britain, http://peib.dmu.ac.uk)

His work was represented in the exhibition of the Norwich Photographic Society (founded 1854). He showed collodion portraits and architectural views.

November 29 (Norfolk Chronicle)

Sawyer announced the opening of a ‘New Studio’, with portraits ‘taken in any weather from Ten till Three’, at 42 London Street.


June 16 (Norfolk News)

He was about to make his usual visit to ‘Continental Markets’.

September 15 (Norfolk Chronicle)

Earliest mention so far found that Sawyer was producing cartes de visites.

December 29

Sawyer announced that he had purchased the entire stock of fellow-photographers Rogers and Havers. He also regretted that ‘the late dull weather has prevented the punctual execution of orders’.


April 7 (Census: RG/1219, f123, p37)

With wife (Laura), two children (Robert, 5, and Ellen, 3) and mother-in-law (Louisa) in West Wymer, Heigham, Norfolk. Described as ‘cutler surgical’.


Date not known

Birth of his son, Charles, in Norwich.

January 4 (Norfolk Chronicle)

He announced the opening of his ‘New Drawing Room Portrait Gallery’ at 42 London Street.

July 26 (Norfolk News)

He had just returned from ‘Paris and the Continent with all the latest improvements of the most eminent photographers’.


August 8 (Norfolk Chronicle)

The paper praised his series of photographs of the encampment of the Norfolk Rifle Volunteers.

August 22 (Norfolk News)

Sawyer was still operating at 42 London Street.

October 3 (Norfolk Chronicle)

He advertised his new studio at 46 London Street. (for a view of the exterior of the building see Addendum below)

October 3 (Norfolk News)

The paper gave a description of both exterior and interior of Sawyer’s new Italian Studio at 46 London Street. (for a view of the exterior of the building see Addendum below)


October 21 (Ipswich Journal)

Sawyer’s first branch studio: an advertisement referred to his new Italian Studio at 18 Brook Street, Ipswich.


January 13 (Norfolk News)

Announced that his Norwich studio had ‘just been furnished with some very artistic new backgrounds and accessories.’

March 31 (Ipswich Journal)

Announced the Ipswich studio’s publication of a series of portraits of local dignitaries and clergymen.


April 6 (Ipswich Journal)

Sawyer announced that he had disposed of his Ipswich business to Walter Smith, who had been Manager of the Artistic Department at the studio since it was opened.

August 31 (Norfolk News)

Announced that he had ‘just returned from the Paris Exposition’.


April 11 (Norfolk Chronicle)

His studio at 46 London Street had ‘just been furnished with a new series of artistic backgrounds, painted under Mr Sawyer’s inspection by eminent London artists’.


Date unknown

Said to have travelled to Berlin to learn the collotype process.

April 17

He announced the introduction of ‘The New Photo Crayon’ to Norwich.


February 12 (Norfolk News)

The paper printed a letter from Sawyer about ‘advanced’ Liberal politics.

May 28 (Norfolk News)

Mentioned as secretary of the Advanced Liberals.

August 6 (Norfolk News)

First mention so far found of a branch studio at 182 King Street, Great Yarmouth. The advertisement also mentioned: ‘New Studio in London Street. Just completed with great improvements acquired by J R Sawyer during his recent visit to France and Germany. New backgrounds, Lenses and Accessories.’


March 21 (London Standard)

First reference found so far to the formation of the Sawyer and Bird partnership.

April 2 (Census: RG10/1811/38/18)

Photographer, living in Thorpe Road, St Matthew, Norwich, with his wife, Laura, and three children: Ellen (13), Charles (9) and Walter (0).


April 3 (Census: RG11/1345, f16, p26)

Described as ‘Director of Autotype Works’, living at 51 Windsor Road, Ealing. His family was made up of: Laura, wife, 45; Ellen, daughter, 23, assistant in fine arts gallery; Charles, son, 19, foreign corresponding clerk.


October 1 [to Nov 14] (Exhibitions of the RPS, http://erps.dmu.ak.uk)

Exhibited Views in Switzerland at the Royal Photographic Society’s annual exhibition. His address was 3 Windsor Road, Ealing.


January 21

Died in Naples, Italy, where he had gone to recover from illness.


March 18

His will was proved. Charles, his son, and Walter Bird were co-executors, and his personal estate was worth £9,091 8s 3d.


Addendum 2022

From Paul Godfrey: I am of the opinion that the Italian Studio at 46 London Street is the same building that today is number 32 pictured below. I suspect the street was renumbered. (image Paul Godfrey Collection)

Sawyer's Italian Studio Norwich, the building today


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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: 08 September 2022, 16:05

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