Yarmouth studios of Wallace and Elizabeth Miller
Before setting up in business on his own account, Wallace Robert Miller worked for ten years as manager for Sawyer and Bird, who were based in Norwich, but who had branches in Great Yarmouth in the 1870s. To reach a total of ten years’ service, Miller must have worked in both of their Yarmouth studios: first at 182 King Street, and later at 14 King Street. But in the early 1880s Sawyer and Bird withdrew from their Norfolk operations to concentrate on their work in London and on their roles as directors of the Autotype Company. At around this time Miller opened a studio in his own name.
His studio at 182 King Street had been vacated by his former employers in the second half of the 1870s and had since hosted a brief foray into Yarmouth commercial life by Norwich photographer Frederick Treble. Exactly when Miller took on the studio is not known, but he described himself for the 1881 census as ‘master photographer’. This seems to suggest that he was already operating independently by that time.
The census entry shows Wallace R Miller, aged 34 and born in Norwich, living at 3 Waveney Terrace, Great Yarmouth. His wife Elizabeth, also 34, originated from Wortwell, Suffolk. Their three children (Wallace, 8; Alice, 1; Edward, 2 months) were all born in Yarmouth. There are also two servants – Elizabeth Platt (21) and Harriet Platt (16), both from Metfield in Suffolk – and Alice Funnell (26), of unknown occupation. (Their presence may indicate the level of support that Elizabeth Miller was soon to need, when she combined managing a household, a young family and a photographic studio.)
Both Kelly’s and White’s 1883 directories of Norfolk record Miller’s business at 182 King Street. But trade directory information was collected some time in advance, and by the time these directories appeared, Wallace was dead. His death, at the age of 35, was registered in the March quarter of 1882. Between 1883 and 1888 there’s an aggravating lack of trade directories, but by 1888 the studio was in the hands of the London Photographic Company.
There’s some uncertainty about Elizabeth Miller’s entry into the photographic trade. It seems likely that she had already some experience of working alongside her husband. Many photographers’ wives were active in the business, and it wasn’t unusual for widows to continue in what had become a family career. In fact, Elizabeth may have taken her first studio while Wallace was still active, for Kelly’s 1883 directory shows her operating at 3 Exmouth Place. At this point the 14 King Street studio was still listed as belonging to Sawyer and Bird, but by 1888 it was occupied by Elizabeth Miller. The business continued there under her name until the early years of the next century, though
she remarried in 1886. Her new husband, John Lockwood, was referred to as a photographer in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, but his name seems not to have appeared above the door.
A quick look at addresses gives the misleading impression that Elizabeth had a series of studios after Exmouth Place. Trade directories mention 14 King Street, 14a King Street, and 116 Regent Road, while some of her photographic mounts refer to Miller’s Royal Studio. In fact, these all turn out to be essentially the same studio. ‘Miller’s Royal Studio’ is simply a name, chosen for marketing purposes and involving no change of accommodation. The other three addresses need a little more explanation, and for this I lean heavily on information provided by Paul Godfrey, a local photo-historian.
14 King Street and 116 Regent Road were adjoining premises within the same building on a corner site. Each had an entrance in its own road, but inside, on the top floor at least, accommodation ran the length of the building and housed a photographic studio. A photo from the 1890s shows Miller’s Royal Studio at 14 King Street. There is no shop front at 116 Regent Road at this stage. But some time later in the decade Elizabeth Miller had a shop front installed on the Regent Road side of the building. This now became the entrance to her premises. The lower part of 14 King Street was taken over by another business altogether, but the studio still stretched across the top floor of both addresses, constituting both the upper reaches of 116 Regent Road and (to distinguish it from the downstairs shop
at number 14) 14a King Street. Both of these addresses appear in trade directories in 1900, and both refer to the same business. Elizabeth Miller had reconfigured her operating space (and, incidentally, provided some extra studio-dating help for later generations), but she hadn’t actually moved.
A photo from around the turn of the century shows the Regent Road shop front of the altered premises.
The entrance door is set between two large windows full of examples of Mrs Miller’s work. Stretched
above the door and window, under the ‘Miller’s’ sign, is a sign saying ‘Fine Art Repository’. ‘Art
Photographer’ appears in large lettering in one of the windows. The top floor of the four-storey
building is given over to a daylight studio, with 18 tall windows (stretching almost from floor to
ceiling, and ignoring the division between shops that is apparent at ground level).
By 1904 the studio was taken over by Alfred Yallop, who continued – for a time, at least – to use ‘Miller’s Royal Studio’ on his photographic mounts. The building itself still stands, but the row of tall windows has gone.
Paul Godfrey points out that the name 'Royal Studio', which was certainly designed to impress, probably also had some factual justification. Miller mounts often featured the Prince of Wales' feathers, and some bore the words 'Patronized by TRH the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert Victor'. The future Edward VII stayed in the town at Shadingfield Lodge on a number of occasions from the 1870s to the 1890s. (It may have been no coincidence that Lily Langtry was, apparently, a frequent visitor to the nearby Royal Hotel.)
Regent Road studios
King Street Studios