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.