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Joseph Lowe - Landscape Photographer

Page Editor: Norman Jackson

Page last Reviewed: 29 Aug 2017

Joseph Lowe was a renowned and prolific photographer, who lived in Patterdale between the early 1890’s and 1934. He is best known for his landscape photographs of the Lake District, particularly of Ullswater and Patterdale, which were sold as post-cards to tourists. His postcards are nowadays keenly sought by collectors. The photographs we have found
can be seen here 

Early Life
Joseph was born in the Rusholme district of Manchester on the 8th August 1865. He was the youngest of seven children born to Thomas Lowe and his second wife Mary (nee Cottrell). He was baptised on the 17th September 1865 at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Dickenson Road, Rusholme - his father was an active member of the Wesleyan movement.

His father, who worked as a Baker, had married Rachel Cottrell in 1840 and initially lived with her mother and sisters in Moore Street, Rusholme, although by the time of the 1851 census they had their own house in nearby Egerton Place. Thomas and Rachel had five children; Alfred (1841-1912), Rachel (1843-1915), William (1845-1928), Thomas (1848-1904) and John (1856-1875). Sadly, following the birth of John on the 18th January 1856, Rachel suffered a Puerperal Infection which caused a fever, convulsions and then manic depression which eventually led to her admission into the Prestwich Lunatic Asylum on the 24th January 1857. She remained in the asylum and died there of Pulmonary Consumption (TB) on the 26th June 1859.

With an infant son and a young family to look after, it is certain that Thomas would have needed the support of Rachel’s sisters during her illness and subsequent committal. It is not surprising, therefore, that just over a year after Rachel’s death, Thomas married her younger sister Mary on the 21st July 1860 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Oldham Street, Manchester, even though, at that time, it was actually illegal for a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister (Note 1). Perhaps this is why he didn't marry at his local chapel.

Thomas and Mary continued to live in Rusholme and had three children; George (1862- ), James Henry (1864-1940) and finally Joseph.

Joseph most likely attended Platt Day School in nearby Grove Street, Rusholme but by 1881, aged 15, he was working as a ‘Warehouse Man’, the same as his brothers George and James. Lodging with the family in 1881 was a Glaswegian called William Ralston, a Commercial Traveller in Lithographic Printing – could he have inspired Joseph to pursue an artistic career or was it William Roberts, the Rusholme 'village photographer', who had a studio on Dickenson Road during the second half of the 19th century. 

The Move to Patterdale                         
Whatever the reason, we know that by 1891, Joseph had moved to the Lake District and was living in Patterdale. The census describes his home as ‘Shanty’ and appears to be associated with the newly built Home Farm. He was recorded as ‘single’ and working as an Artist. The only painting we know to have survived, is the 1891 watercolour shown below. A photograph of it was kindly sent to us by Shirley Rushmer in 2016 and clearly shows what an accomplished artist he was. When the 1901 census was taken, he was still single but had begun working as a Landscape Photographer, his address was recorded as ‘Grisdale Bridge’, although it’s most likely that he was still in the same house close to Home Farm (itself incorrectly recorded as Hall Farm that year)(Note 2)



Whilst his occupation in 1901 was described as a Landscape Photographer, we know he took family photographs such as the one shown here, taken in 1896, of eight month old Edwin Hammond Place, the son of Matthew Place (Company Secretary of the Greenside Mine). Also, when the Rector of Patterdale, the Rev. William Prosser Morris, published his book ‘The Records of Patterdale’ in March 1903, Joseph Lowe provided most of the photographs.





The tenants of Home Farm in 1901 were Robert Grisdale, a farm bailiff, his wife Rachel and their twenty-four year old daughter Jessie. Despite being eleven years older, Joseph formed a close friendship with Jessie and they married at St Patrick’s Church on the 22nd March 1905. Interestingly, in the marriage register, Joseph gave his address as ‘The Hagg’. The Hagg Field was the name of the field traditionally used for sporting events (it was renamed King George V Playing Field when it was bought, by public subscription in 1937, from the Marshall family of Patterdale Hall) so 'The Hagg' was probably another name for his ‘Shanty’? 

Probably in the Spring of 1906, following the death of Deepdale resident John Scott, Joseph and Jessie set up home at Yew Tree Cottage, which is situated in the fork between the two Deepdale Bridges. They must have rented Yew Tree cottage, as the 1910 Rate Books show that it was owned by Thomas Bownass of the Ullswater Hotel. Their only child Geoffrey was born there on the 9th of October 1909. Soon after moving to Yew Tree Cottage, Joseph converted the small building across the lane, and on the edge of Deepdale Beck, into his studio - It is still called 'The Studio' to this day.


The Postcard Business
Plain postcards were introduced by the Post Office in 1870 and had a pre-printed stamp. It wasn't until the 1st of September 1894 that the Post Office allowed postcards produced by others to be posted. This opened the way for picture and advertising postcards. However, the address, and nothing else, still had to be written on one side of the card. The other side being for the picture and message. In many cases the picture covered most of the card, leaving little room for the message. From 1899 onwards, the standard size of 5.5” x 3.5”, already in use in other countries, was accepted in Britain.In 1902 the Post Office changed it’s rules, allowing both the message (to be on the left) as well as the address (to be on the right) to be written on the back of the card – this permitted the picture to fill the front of the card. From then on, postcards exploded in popularity, they were cheap and reliable, with up to seven postal deliveries a day in the cities. Millions of postcards went through the postal system every week. 

Joseph Lowe was certainly in the right place at the right time, tourism was increasing, the railways were bringing day trippers to the Lake District from the mill towns of Lancashire. This was the golden era of postcards and people bought them to keep as souvenirs as well as to send to friends. 

Joseph is known to have travelled all over the Lake District taking topographical photographs such as these shown here, sometimes by bicycle, sometimes by pony and trap and even on foot. If the serial numbers on his cards are sequential, then he produced some 4400 different postcards over the years. 

The normal inland postage rates for postcards had been ½d for almost 50 years until it was doubled to 1d in June 1918 and further increased to 1½d in January 1921. The increases, and a dip in tourist numbers following the war, caused a significant reduction in the number of cards posted. Following protests, the rate was reduced back to 1d in May 1922. However, this must have been a difficult time for Joseph and may have been the reason why he subscribed, in 1925 and again in 1929, to have an entry in the Kelly's Directory for the first time. Curiously, there is an entry in the 1921 edition for a 'Joseph Low. Printer' in Glenridding - was he trying to diversify?


Death
Joseph Lowe died at Yew Tree Cottage on Friday the 2nd of February 1934, aged 68 years, following a short illness of four weeks. His death, and a short obituary, was reported the next day in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald. His obituary stated that as well as being an accomplished photographer, he showed much skill in oil and water colour painting. It also said that his most absorbing hobby was the study of Geology and that he had an extensive knowledge of the evolution of the Lakeland mountains and dales, becoming such an authority that he was called upon to give lectures on the subject. 

Joseph took a keen interest in village life, supporting the local football and cricket clubs (he had been an umpire in his younger days), athletics and rifle shooting for a time. He was clearly well known and liked in the dale, evidenced by the large number of mourners at his funeral service and burial, which took place at St Patrick's Church on Monday the 5th of February - around seventy people were named in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald report of the funeral the following Saturday.


What became of his family?
After Joseph died, Jessie continued to make and sell his postcards. At some point she
moved into Bridgend, a larger house behind Yew Tree Cottage, which she retained until her death on the 6th December 1970 at the age of 94. Jessie, died at ‘The Grange’, a residential nursing home in Chertsey, Surrey (presumably this was close to where her son Geoffrey was living at the time) but is buried with Joseph in St Patrick's Churchyard, Patterdale.

Joseph's son, Geoffrey, mustn't have had the same passion for photography, as he became a Highways Surveyor for the Ministry of Transport and moved to Surrey. He married Jemima Ellen MacArthur in Morton Parish Church, Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, on the 2nd May 1938; they had three children - two daughters and a son. Jemima died around May 1992 in Surrey at the age of 78, and Geoffrey died in Worthing, West Sussex, in December 1995 at the age of 86.




Notes
1. The 1835 Marriage Act specifically prohibited such a union. The act was based on Anglican Canon Law (the Anglican Church considered the practice to be incestuous since when you marry, you become of one flesh, so your spouse's sister becomes your own sister as well. This contentious law was finally repealed in 1907. For an excellent account of the origins and subsequent fight to repeal the law click here

2. The enumerator for that part of the dale in 1901 was Robert Nixon, a grocer’s assistant and amateur botanist. There are at least four cottages, which were known to be on the north-eastern side of the bridge and usually listed as ‘Grisedale Bridge’ in the census records. From, the enumerators sequence, Joseph’s home is south-west of the bridge close to Home Farm (or Hall Farm as he recorded it in 1901). There are many instances in the 1901 census where Robert Nixon just recorded the name of the locality.