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

Sawyer & Bird managers

Acting as manager for Sawyer, or, later, Sawyer & Bird, seems to have provided a good basis for a subsequent photographic career. (It is also tempting to suspect that Sawyer and Bird managed business transitions with a degree of genuine good will, and on terms that proved advantageous to their successors.)


Albert Coe became manager of Sawyer’s new studio in London Street, Norwich in 1863, at the age of nineteen. Until 1865 this was Sawyer’s only studio, but he had his optical and surgical instrument businesses to attend to as well, and he regularly made trips abroad, so the post offered Coe some scope for responsibility. By 1873 Sawyer & Bird advertisements referred to Coe as their ‘partner in Norwich’. Coe’s junior status is perhaps reflected, however, in the fact that the business continued to be conducted under the names of just Sawyer and Bird.

The partnership was dissolved in 1883, leaving Coe in sole charge and with his name above the door. He nevertheless made a practice of drawing attention to the link with his predecessors: ‘Albert E Coe, late Sawyer & Bird’ appears on his mounts at least as late as 1891. Like Sawyer, Coe also practised as an optician, and he carried on business in London Street (renumbered as 32) until his death in 1928, at the age of 84. He was still working in the shop on the morning of the day he died. His successors continued at the premises – though the use of a different entrance led to the adoption of 13a Castle Meadow as the new address – until 2003, when a merger produced the firm of Barrett & Coe. A move to new premises followed in 2008.


Walter Azemberg Smith was originally an architect. While working for the Norwich City Surveyor’s department he was engaged to design and project-manage the building of Sawyer's new Italian Studio, which was completed by early October 1863. He was then invited to change his career by joining Sawyer's artistic department as a colourist. Over the next two years he presumably gained experience in other aspects of photographic work, for when Sawyer opened a studio at Brook Street in Ipswich in the autumn of 1865, Smith was appointed manager of the Artistic Department of the new branch. The Ipswich studio continued on this footing for about a year and a half, at which point Sawyer withdrew, and Smith took over the business in his own right.

Smith continued to operate at Brook Street until 1883 and then moved to Southampton, Hampshire, where he continued his career as photographer until at least 1911.

Great Yarmouth

Sawyer & Bird had two studios in Yarmouth: one at 182 King Street in the earlier part of the 1870s, and one at 14 King Street in the later 70s and early 80s. Wallace Miller’s career as their manager covered ten years, so he must have worked at both locations.

Evidence of the transfer of business has yet to be found, so it’s impossible to be as confident of continuity as is the case with the Norwich and Ipswich studios. The researcher is reduced to noting a series of facts and wondering what inferences may fairly be drawn:

  • Sawyer & Bird relinquished their Yarmouth business some time in the early 1880s.
  • Wallace Miller described himself as a ‘master photographer’ in the 1881 census – perhaps implying that he had by then entered independent practice.
  • Miller had a studio at 182 King Street in the very early 80s. (This was a former Sawyer & Bird studio, but it had been used in the interim by Frederick Treble, a Norwich photographer.)
  • Miller drew attention, in his promotional material, to his experience with Sawyer & Bird.
  • Miller died early in 1882.
  • Miller’s wife, Elizabeth, ran a studio in Exmouth Place for a short while in the early 80s. (This may have been contemporaneous with her husband’s studio, or it may have been taken up in the early days of her widowhood.)
  • By 1888 (and possibly some years earlier) Elizabeth Miller was running a business at 14 King Street, which was also a former Sawyer & Bird address.
  • No record has yet been found of a photographer at 14 King Street between Sawyer & Bird and Elizabeth Miller.
  • Elizabeth Miller continued at 14 King Street until the early years of the 20th century.

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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: 19 July 2022, 16:19

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