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Sam Thompson's Lost Lancaster

Sam Thompson was a Lancaster photographer whose work won acclaim and recognition, nationally and internationally, far beyond the confines of his native city.

Sam was born in Scotforth, just to the south of Lancaster, in 1871. His family were farmers in the area providing, in future years, many useful connections for his nostalgic portraits of local characters.

As a farmer's son, he spent many hours conversing with farmers in the area and as G.L. Robertson mentioned in Sam's obituary in the Lancaster Guardian - woe betide anyone who had a 'face' as they would inevitably join the collection of what Sam called his 'Local Worthies'.

Easter Monday, photographing Red Screes, Ambleside  A Caton Gamekeeper

He was a familiar figure with his camera and tripod, searching for pictures of interesting faces in the countryside during his rambles or whilst out on his bicycle. Sam's "local worthies" collection though is not restricted to farmers, it includes the faces of gamekeepers, gardeners, fishermen, lighthouse keepers, land army women, artists, and so on.

Benjamin Dobson of Artmer  Anne Woodhouse - Women's Land Army

Alongside his portraiture, Sam Thompson is also well known for his images of the old streets, yards and alleyways of Lancaster and their inhabitants.

View of one of the yards which until 1920-30 lay behind the main streets of Lancaster  In Curwen's Yard, Monmouth Street, Lancaster

In the early 1890s Sam Thompson, now twenty, had left home and lived in Preston and was an office worker, but his hobby was photography and his was a keen and proficient amateur.

Meanwhile, back in Lancaster, the Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Company was started up by Karl Klic, a Czech, and a Lancastrian, Samuel Fawcett in 1895. The company specialised in printing reproductions of the old masters by the new Rotary Photogravure process invented jointly by Klic and Fawcett.

Around this time, Sam showed some of his work to Samuel Fawcett, who immediately offered him a job. Sam moved back to the family farm and began work as a photographer with the Rembrandt Company, and later he took over the etching from Mr Fawcett in order to allow the latter to attend more to his duties as Technical Director. He was chief etcher until the firm transferred its headquarters to London in 1926. Sam however, did not move with the Company, he remained in Lancaster.

In Albrights Yard, St Leonardgate, Lancaster  St Marys Place off Church Street, Lancaster

The earliest photographs known of by Sam Thompson date from the mid 1890s, a time of change in the landscape of Lancaster. His main body of work, a photographic survey of threatened streets, yards and alleys, was made in the 1920s. Without these photographic surveys of the old streets of Lancaster, when there was a great deal of "urban development", some of the old courts, yards and alleys would largely have been forgotten. His photographic interest in the changing face of Lancaster has provided invaluable visual historical information for posterity.

Sam had a great friend and walking companion James Row, often seen in Thompson's photograph. These two friends formed a lecturing team, giving lantern lectures entitled "O'er Hill and Dale": Thompson provided photographs in the form of lantern slides and Row delivered the lectures.

Owd Bob of Scotforth  Man on Steps, Ashton Hall, Lancaster

Sam Thompson's work won awards in many important exhibitions in this country during the 1930s. His photographs were also exhibited in America and Canada when some of them were included in a selection of "the best of British" put together by the Royal Photographic Society. The latter, still have a number of his images within their collections, now held at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sam Thompson died of pneumonia on 15th March 1945, aged 74 years.

James Row noted at the time:- "He craved no pleasures beyond the simplest - a country walk or cycle ride with his camera; the flower beds in the Park; the views from the top of Clougha or Wardstone; a talk with the farmers and gamekeepers; cultivating his garden and a good book; all these were pure joy."

See the Sam Thompson collection.

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