From local dignitaries and Victorian edifices to pageants and poets, photographer James Smith Protheroe and his partner Thomas Henry Simons captured them all. But it could have turned out very differently.
One of tailor Thomas Protheroe’s eleven children, James was born in 1858 over the shop in Goat Street, Swansea, next door to the public library. By 1871 13 year old James was already working alongside his father, described as ‘young tailor’ in the census of that year.
But his artistic leanings had the support of his elder brother Thomas, an artist, who left Wales following his marriage to Emma Chapman in 1872. Thomas moved to Bristol and by 1876 had his own photographic studio at 33 Wine Street.
At around the same time James moved to Swindon and by the 1880s the brothers were advertising their joint ventures on the back of the popular carte de visite they sold for 5s a dozen. While James established himself at 30 Regent Street, New Swindon Thomas remained in Bristol. In 1881 the Protheroe studios won a first class silver medal for oil painting at the Plymouth Art and Industrial Exhibition and proudly declared royal patronage by HRH Prince of Wales.
Towards the end of the century Prothero’s sitters included Queenstown School teacher Edith New who would shortly leave Swindon to join the Women’s Social and Political Union and join the fight for Votes for Women. And in 1903 the GWR Hammerman poet Alfred Williams took his bride Mary Peck along to the Regent Street studio to pose for their wedding photograph.
By now James had taken his nephew into the business, Thomas Henry Simons, the son of his sister Elizabeth and her husband Henry, a commercial shipping clerk. James had married Fanny Jane Redman, a dress mantle maker, in 1894 and the new century saw the family photography firm based at 96 Victoria Road. The shop is caught in a view of Swindon’s tram disaster in 1906 by that other Swindon photographer William Hooper.
Although the Protheroe name still headed the firm it was Thomas who increasingly took care of the day to day business as James involved himself with the public life of Swindon.
Conductor of the Baptist Tabernacle choir, Justice of the Peace and Wiltshire County Council member, Chairman of the Swindon and Highworth Board of Guardians and member of the Swindon Victoria Hospital Committee are among just a few of the organisations on which James served.
James died at Eirianfa, Newton Villas, Mumbles, overlooking Swansea Bay, in October 1929 aged 72. His body was returned to Swindon for burial in Radnor Street Cemetery.
His obituary published in the North Wilts Herald declared that ‘there was no busier man in Swindon, and few who will be more missed.’
To see more of the work of Protheroe and Simons and other Swindon photographers visit the Swindon Local Studies Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal
For more information about Alfred's life and work, see the official website of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society: www.alfredwilliams.org.uk
James Smith Protheroe's grave in Radnor Street Cemetery