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William Russell Sedgfield 1826 - 1902

Sedgfield was considered to be one of the leading topographical photographers of the nineteenth century.

Norma Hampson
Shakespeare's Birthplace, copy of photograph by Sedgfield
Copy of photograph taken by Sedgfield of Shakespeare's Birthplace

William Russell Sedgfield was accompanied by his younger brother, Sidney, when he visited the Birthplace on the 23 May 1859 giving his occupation as photographer. In the 1851 census he was resident in Marylebone with his brother Edward. He married Elizabeth Mary Knight in 1857 and the 1861 census records them living with their two year old daughter Ada in Hemel Hempstead. Their son William Herbert (Bertie) was born in April 1864.

William Russell Sedgfield, son of Edward and Sarah, was born on 21 March 1826 at Devizes, Wiltshire and baptised at the Chapelry of St. James, Bishops Canning, Wiltshire.

At the age of 18 he became a wood engraver for Punch magazine but his main career was in photography. Two years earlier he had applied to Henry Talbot for a calotype licence. Calotype was a photographic process introduced in 1841 by William Henry Fox Talbot using paper coated with silver iodide instead of paper sensitised with silver chloride. This latter process required a long exposure to produce an acceptable negative). However, having received a demand for £20 from Talbot’s solicitor, he decided to continue without a licence. He moved to London and by 1854 the publisher Samuel Highley, was offering not only his photographs but also his folios for sale.

Sedgfield's signature in the 1859 Birthplace visitor book
Sedgfield's signature in the 1859 Birthplace visitor book

The folios entitled ‘Photographic Delineations of the Scenery, Architecture, and Antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland’  were issued in four parts, the first two with photographs of East Anglian architecture. His stereoscopic photographs from the mid 1850s – 1860s were published mainly by Alfred W Bennet, of London and the London Stereoscopic Company. ‘Sedgfield’s English Scenery’ and ‘Sedgfield’s Welsh Scenery’ were issued between 1855 and 1856.

As a member of the Norwich Photographic Society he contributed his work, especially photographs taken in East Anglia, to their exhibitions. In 1856 he exhibited a photograph of Warwick Castle and one of Caesar’s Tower, Kenilworth at that venue. It is surprising that of the 134 records of his exhibitions held nationwide* none include photographs of Stratford-upon-Avon. However, the Birmingham Photographic Society exhibition of 1857 included the following local photographs:

Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick, Leicester’s Buildings, Kenilworth,  

Guy’s Cliff, Warwick, Charlecote Hall, The Parade, Leamington 

At the London Photographic Society Exhibition in 1857 photographs of Caesar’s Tower, Kenilworth and Leicester’s Hospital, Warwick were on display. The following Guy’s Cliff House was featured.

Throughout his life he continued to contribute to photographic journals and his illustrations feature in many topographical books especially those written by William Howitt i.e. The Thames Illustrated by Photographs. From Richmond to Cliefden’ Series 1. London: A. Marion Son & Co. 1866  and Series II , 1867.

His wife Elizabeth died in 1872 aged 44 years. He remained a widower until his death in 1902 in Kingston, Surrey. In the intervening years he lived with his daughter Ada. His son Bertie, an architect, had emigrated to Australia where he died in 1919.

In the process of writing this blog we have discovered that one of our favourite early photographs of the Birthplace (at the top of this post) was taken by Sedgfield, we found it on the website of Reading Museum


*Taylor, R Photographical Exhibitions in Britain 1839 – 1865, National Gallery of Canada,

2002. On-line version created by Roger Taylor funded by Arts & Humanities Research Board

(AHRB) maintained by Professor Stephen Brown, De Montfort University.  (

Dr. William’s Library : Non-conformist & Non Parochial Registers 1567 – 1970.  Alphabetical Index of Births 1837, piece 4675

Census Returns 1851 – 1901

England & Wales  Death Index 1837-1915

Australian Death Index 1787-1985. Boroondara Cemetery,grave no.735

Archive@wiltshire has several stereoscopic images and photographs by Sedgfield.

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