British photographic history

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Born to a family of lapidaries (precious stone merchants) in 1840 in Edinburgh, Thomas Begbie only took up photography in the late 1850s before becoming a member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1867. He set up a professional photography studio at 7 Leith Street (now the site of the St James Centre), and appeared in trade directories from 1874, advertising himself as a professional photographer from 1879-1881.

Begbie travelled all over the city to chronicle what he saw – from the Port of Leith and Newhaven with its fishwives and schooners docked onto the cobblestone quayside, to John Knox's house with a group of scruffy urchins outside, to Princes Street when Waverley Station was still under construction.

The Cavaye Collection of glass negatives by Begbie was discovered in a house in St James' Square in 1950, and is currently held at the City Art Centre. They cover a wide range of subjects, most notably Edinburgh's Old Town, but also the coastal communities of Leith, Granton and Newhaven and further afield such as Roslin and Stirling. Some of the photos in the collection pre-date the first record of his studio (in the 1880s) and it seems that Begbie was a teenager when he took them, which is quite extraordinary.

Now you can view some of Begbie's intimate images of Edinburgh in an exhibition here, and a news article here.



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Comment by Alex. Sinclair on January 10, 2017 at 12:03

I have recently been looking at Begbie in some detail since noticing several photos attributed to him of which I own Victorian originals, all bearing the name of Alexander McGlashon. It is easily demonstrated, that many of the photographs, mostly stereoviews, in the Cavaye collection are much earlier than the dates ascribed to them; typically many are dated 1887 but can be shown to be approximately thirty years earlier than this. In the 1857/58 period when they were taken McGlashon, unlike the teenage Begbie, was already an established Edinburgh photographer with portraits and stereoviews from earlier in the decade held in several museums.

The glass plates discovered in St James Square, where incidentally McGlashon's business was based at the time of his death in 1877,  is I believe clearly the photographic archive of the stereoviews of Alexander McGlashon.

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