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Spanton-Jarman Photographic collection (K505)

Old Curiosity Shop, Cornhill, c1865 (K505/55) This business was first listed in 1830 when it was run by Thomas Fenton, furniture broker and dealer in curiosities .

Old Curiosity Shop, Cornhill, c1865 (K505/55) This business was first listed in 1830 when it was run by Thomas Fenton, furniture broker and dealer in curiosities .

The Spanton-Jarman collection (K505) consists of 4000 negatives, and includes the work of Harry and Oswald Jarman, along with photographs taken by William Spanton and his son W S Spanton, and those purchased from John Palmer Clarke. They give a fascinating glimpse into life in Bury St Edmunds and a number of smaller towns and villages across the county from the 1860s to the outbreak of WW2.

William Spanton had established his ‘Repository of Arts and West Suffolk Photographic Establishment’ at 16 Abbeygate Street by 1864. He was a man of many parts, combining the conduct of the ‘Repository’ with work as a house decorator, paper-hanger, plumber, glazier, carver, gilder and painter. He also designed the four-storeyed house in Abbeygate Street in which he had his business.

William Spanton’s success in his photographic studio caused him to give up his other concerns, except that of framing and gilding which remained part of the business from his time on. He died in 1870 at the age of forty-seven.

His son, William Silas Spanton, was at the time of his father’s death training as an artist in London; he returned to Bury to run the business, which he did successfully for some 30 years until his retirement in 1901. His interest in painting continued, and he had some reputation locally as a copier of paintings. He widened the scope of the business further, adding to framing and glazing the sale of art materials, and also built up a considerable business as an optician. His continued interest in painting is reflected in his autobiographical account of his youth, An Art Student and his Teachers in the Sixties.

W.S. Spanton was at the centre of many local controversies. He took a leading part in the opposition to the Corporation’s proposal in the 1890s to convert Moyses Hall into a fire station, and was Honorary Secretary of the Committee formed to repair the Hall for its opening as a museum.

Perhaps surprisingly, he does not seem to have done a great deal of topographical photography in proportion to the total output of the firm, and it was the other principal firm, the Clarkes, in the persons of John William Clarke and his son John Palmer Clarke who were much more active in this field, their advertisements referring to their large selection of views. The Clarkes were in business in Bury from about 1868 and continued there until John Palmer Clarke left to establish a photographic studio in Cambridge, starting the business there which eventually became Helen Muspratt’s. In 1890 Harry Isaac Jarman was apprenticed to John Palmer Clarke, and continued with him on qualifying until 1901, when, on the retirement of W.S. Spanton, he purchased the Spanton business and its collections of negatives. When Clarke’s move to Cambridge occurred in 1903, Jarman bought that firm’s extensive stock of negatives of views of the town and neighbourhood.

H.I. Jarman died in 1961. Before his death the business had been conducted by his son O.G. Jarman who retired in 1977 and died in 1993.

In 1997 Oswald Jarman’s son Michael donated the collection to the Past and Present Society, with a request that members do all they could to preserve it as a unique source of local history and make it widely available to the public.  Further information about the Society and its work can be found at their website: