Moses Bowness Life
Moses Bowness
Susan Premru
Moses Bowness
Ambleside’s first Photographer    Active 1856-1894

Moses Bowness built the largest photograph business in Westmorland, England, and practiced in Ambleside between 1856 – 1894, where, as earliest photographer, he had many notable sitters,  for his carte-de-visites.


He was born into a copper-miners family in Coniston, England in 1833, and died after a tragic accident in 1894, after which several of his earlier apprentices went on to establish their own businesses in the area of the county now known as Cumbria. Herbert Bell purchased his archive, and went on to become an horourary librarian of the Armitt Museum in Ambleside.


Moses was an example of the Victorian ethic of self-help – a man of little education but of great enterprise. At the age of 17 he was working as a farm labourer while his 11 year old brother was at the mine with their father. It is of speculation whether he was encouraged by the radical Linton who had bought nearby Brantwood, and later sold the rat-infested cottage to Ruskin.


He went on to build his photographic establishment, his hotel & some shops; farm 500 acres, become Secretary to the Hawkshead Agricultural Society; director of the new Gas Company; encourage the tourist trade in Ambleside; exhibit his photographs in London at the Royal Photographic Society; give evidence to the Railway Enquiry; work to save Stock Ghyll and make some reputation as a poet.




It is not known how he came to take up photography, but he must have been well enough established by 1857 because in May he went to nearby Grasmere to photograph the young Prince of Wales and his party on their tour of the Lakes – a long description of the tour was given in the local Westmorland Gazette. From then on he displayed “Photographer to HRH the Prince of Wales” on the reverse


By 1861 Moses was a married man with a growing business. He had married Isabella Slater, 16 years his senior, widow of a local builder who ran his private hotel, and with children who were to help his business. He met, photographed, and sold the books of John Close, the controversial poet who reciprocated by advertising Moses’ business in them.


He married his second wife in the registry office at Kendal 18 months after the death of Isabella; the much younger Helena Hudlestone , one-time heiress of a director of the East India Company, who had already borne several of his children. They lived in Belmount, the Georgian house later bought by Miss Owen, a friend of Beatrix Potter.


He survived for a few days after being thrown from his carriage near the ferry at Esthwaite, and was buried in his father’s grave at Coniston.  Helena was sole heir. She sold up and left the district. All that remains today to remember Moses are a few entries in old gazetteers. He became a forgotten man.



Moses Character
Reverse of
carte de visite
The young 
Prince of Wales
The Prince of Wales Hotel
  originally Browns Hotel
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