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Exhibition: Still Lives - The Brunskill Collection at the Armitt and beyond

This summer all over Ambleside are displayed the faces of people who were here long before us - people who lived, worked and visited the area 150 years ago. These historic images are reappearing as photographic portraits throughout the town, as part of the Armitt Museum’s summer exhibition, “Still Lives – The Brunskill Collection at the Armitt and Beyond

This collection of fascinating portraits is the work of the Brunskill brothers, who from 1865-1906 ran a photographic studio in Bowness. Almost the complete life’s work of this photographic studio is now held by Ambleside’s Armitt Museum and includes a vast archive of 17,800 photographs on glass plates. The survival of this rare and important collection not only gives an invaluable insight into the Victorian world and its inhabitants, but also into the workings of an early photographic studio.

At the heart of the exhibition is the Armitt Museum where the local families are represented. Here the Mackereths, Braithwates, Bensons, Tysons, Birketts and Hawkriggs take centre stage, as they once did in life:

These are the families most closely associated with the development of the area, the fullers and freeholders whose fortunes rose and fell with those of the woollen industry”, Armitt curator Deborah Walsh said. “This however is an exhibition about community, hosted by the community, and as such it has spilled out through the doors of the Armitt and into the streets of Ambleside.

“The sixty or so portraits to be seen here include the beautiful Miss Midgely, the unsettling Borwick Twins and the defiant Tom Carlisle in the Market Place. On Compston Road there is old Mr Pannington with the face of a man born in the eighteenth century, and sweet little Miss Brown with her soldier doll. Louche Mr Foster with top-hat and tin whistle will take up residence in the Golden Rule, and in the White Lion, the formidable P.C. Greenbank will keep the peace.

“All over Ambleside will be the faces of the people who were here long before us - and of course they will also include that now almost legendary bespectacled, pipe smoking Jack Russell, a truly heroic figure known only as ‘Mr Sedgwick’s dog’”.

However, the exhibition is more than just a rarity for its complete survival and for its value as an important resource for family historians and those interested in photography and social history “It’s also a singularly beautiful and fascinating collection in itself and the portraits, in their quiet austerity, still have the power to fascinate,” Deborah said. “They also have an extraordinary sense of timelessness - the paradox of presence and absence made sharper by the passage of time.”

'Still Lives' is on now and all summer at the Armitt Museum and throughout Ambleside. The Museum in Rydal Road, Ambleside, is open from Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, details at

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Comment by Joanna Sassoon on May 7, 2017 at 11:02

One of the really wonderful uses of these photographs is how they are keeping alive regional traditional fishermen's knitting patterns.

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