Everyone experiences, at least once in their professional life, some memorable occasion, some momentous event that changes, helps or furthers their career. For the Mr. Spencer in our story, this red-letter day took place on May 10th 1897.
James Hampson Spencer was born at Heap Bridge, near Bury, Lancashire, on 2nd April 1852, the first and only child of a fuller  named Samuel and of his wife, Leah Hampson. He was baptised at Saint Mary’s church, Bury, on June 13th and was given the name of his paternal grandfather to which was added his mother’s maiden name. By the time of the 1861 census, Samuel Spencer, aged thirty-three, had become a linen draper while his wife was working as a milliner. The household also consisted of their only son, now aged nine and a scholar, of a twenty-three year old boarder named Elizabeth Shaw – a straw worker who was employed as Mrs. Spencer’s assistant – and of a twenty-two year old domestic servant. Ten years later the family was still living at Bury but James Spencer had passed away. Mrs. Spencer’s milliner business was apparently doing well and she now had two assistants who both lived in her house. James Hampson had left school and was apprenticed to a chemist. Around 1876 James and his mother moved to 36 Bridge Street, Chester, Cheshire, where James took over the druggist shop of one Samuel Mather Webster (1816-1889) and settled as a chemist and druggist. By August 1878 he was advertising in the local press his Rubharb, Ginger and Dandelion Pills, his Iodized Sarsaparilla, with Iron and Quinine, his Chlorodyne Emulsion, and his Chloraline, “one of the most valuable preparations known for Toothache, Tic Doloreux, Neuralgia, Rheumastism, and all Nerve Pains” . In 1881 Spencer was listed in the census as the head of the household, a twenty-nine year old master chemist employing one apprentice and one boy. His mother, now fifty-three of age, was still living with him but the line describing her “rank, profession of occupation” was left blank. A male and a female servant, both in their late teens, completed the household. On September 16th 1885, James Hampson Spencer, aged thirty-three, married Mary Harkness at the Parish Church of Saint Peter’s, Birkdale, Lancashire. Their first child, Constance Muriel was born in 1886 but barely lived a whole month. The second child, a son named Kenneth Norman, born in 1887, lived for one year. Dora, their second daughter, born in 1888, died at the age of two, in 1890. Only their last two children, Ruth, born in 1891, and John Reginald, born in 1893, reached adulthood. The 1891 census shows that the Spencers were living with James Hampson’s mother, two apprentices, and a twenty-year old servant from Ireland. Their daughter Ruth was only one month old then.
James Hampson Spencer. Part of Bridge Street, Chester, where Spencer ran a druggist’s shop for twenty-five years.
It is not exactly clear when James Hampson Spencer became interested in photography but we know for a fact that on February 12th 1891 he copyrighted a photograph of the unveiling of the Golden Wedding Fountain at Hawarden Castle, the residence of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and of his wife Catherine, née Glynne. On 25th July 1889 Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone had celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary and the occasion had been marked by the erection of a Porch – henceforward known as the Golden Wedding Porch – and of a commemorative Fountain. Mr. Spencer, as we shall see, would return to Hawarden on several other occasions. Being a chemist and a druggist James Hampson Spencer had easy access to all the chemicals necessary for photography but he was never really a professional photographer. We know from the press of the time he was a member and the secretary of the photographic section of the Chester Society of National Science which held its meetings at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, where Spencer showed some of the magic lantern slides he had made. However, his main production consisted of stereoscopic images on glass. In 1894 fifteen of Spencer’s stereoscopic transparencies were on display, under number 493, at the 39th exhibition of the Photographic Society. Thanks to the catalogue published by the Society we have the titles of those images, taken mostly in and around Chester, but with one from Conway, North Wales, and one from Southport, Merseyside:
|Choir, Chester Cathedral (Looking West).|
Organ and Screen, Chester Cathedral.
Cloisters, Chester Cathedral.
Princess’ Room, Royal Pavilion, Chester.
Drawing Room, Royal Pavilion, Chester.
The Dee, Chester (Winter).
The Wounded Amazon, Eaton Hall, Chester.
Ante-Drawing Room, Eaton Hall, Chester.
Sun and Shade.
Cool Fernery, Botanic Gardens, Southport.
A Cottage Home.
A Critical Audience.
Her First Ride.
Old Mantelpiece, Plas Mawr, Conway. 
That same year, 1894, Spencer participated in the Amateur Photographer Annual Stereoscopic Competition where he won a silver medal for the stereoscopic transparency he submitted. In 1895 his entry won him a gold medal. That year, Spencer also sent four more stereoscopic images on glass to the exhibition of the Photographic Society, three of which came with lines from poems by Alfred Tennyson and John Greenleaf Whittier:
|“Rosy is the West” – Tennyson.|
“A tender glow, exceedingly fair,
A dream of day without its glare.”
(The River Path – Whittier)
Carnarvon Castle, North Wales.
“The splendour falls on castle walks.”
(“The Princess”– Tennyson.)
A Gathering Storm (Barnouth, N. Wales)
Although I have nothing to corroborate or contradict the fact, it is my belief that Spencer started producing his stereoscopic cards “Spencer’s Gold Medal Series” not very long after he won his gold medal. He used photographs he had copyrighted as early as 1893 and started numbering them from August 27th 1895, when he brought to Stationer’s Hall a photograph of children paddling in the sea which is described in the Copyright slip as bearing number 38 on the back. That same day he deposited other stereoscopic images he had taken, numbered 39 to 62, as well as stereoscopic photographs of Venice – numbers 64 to 70 – which had been made by one Louis Charles Hyde (1854-1941) a school teacher from Chester, who also provided Spencer with a view of Lucerne (number 63). Although most of the photos from the Gold Medal Series were taken by Spencer himself, we know from the copyrights that he also used one stereo photograph of the Eaton Fire Brigade along with some stereoscopic snapshots taken at Blackpool by one Ernest Charles Fincham (1863-1902), a young medical student who later became a physician but died in his prime.
In 1896 Spencer was confident enough in his photographic skills to give a lecture entitled “Photography: Origin and History, Essentials and Possibility.” The journalist who reviewed the event described the lecture theatre at the Grosvenor Museum as “well filled, and the lecture, which was illustrated by lantern slides, was of a most lucid, exhaustive, and entertaining character.”  In the course of his lecture Spencer mentioned the expectations of the scientific community concerning application of X-Ray to photography. In September 1896, Spencer, who was still working as a chemist and druggist, put up an advertisement in the Cheshire Observer to announce that photographers could now find everything they needed at his premises:
Every requisite at SPENCER’S, 36, Bridge Street, Chester.
Dark room free to purchasers.
Dry plates, Chemicals, Papers, Mounts, &c. at SPENCER’S, 36, Bridge Street, Chester. 
In 1897, while the nation was preparing to celebrate its monarch’s Diamond Jubilee (sixty years of reign) on June 22nd, Mr. Spencer was advertising a photograph he had taken on the occasion of the fire that destroyed part of Chester’s town hall:
THE RUINED COUNCIL CHAMBER. Those desiring to possess a memento of the disastrous fire at the Town Hall, Chester, should secure one of the excellent photographs taken by J. H. Spencer, & sold by him at 6d., 9d. 1s. & 1s. 6d. each.
J. H. SPENCER, 36, BRIDGE SREET, CHESTER. 
Less than an month after this advertisement it was announced in the press that the Prince and Princess of Wales would be in the Chester area from the 8th to the 10th of May. Their Royal Highnesses intended to stay at Eaton Hall, the residence of Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, first Duke of Westminster, and of his second wife, Katherine Cavendish, before paying a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone at nearby Hawarden Castle. That was too good an opportunity to be missed. Spencer was not a stranger at Hawarden Castle. We saw previously that he had photographed the unveiling of the Golden Wedding Fountain. He had also returned there on another occasion and had obtained permission to take several stereoscopic photographs of the interior of the Gladstones’ residence showing, among others, the hall, the dining-room, the library, and Mr. Gladstone’s study. These images were copyrighted on June 19th 1896 and published as part of his Gold Medal Series under numbers 71 to 78.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 97. EATON HALL, CHESTER. The Hall from the Italian Garden. This was the residence of the first Duke of Westminster. The Hall, considered too large and its upkeep too costly, was pulled down in 1961 and replaced with a smaller mansion.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 34. EATON HALL, CHESTER. Bronze Group, Stable Yard. The Duke of Westminster was famous for being a horse expert and he had remarkable stables at Eaton Hall. The bronze statue was made in 1875 by medallist and sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890).
On May 10th 1897, his red-letter day, James Hampson Spencer was back at Hawarden Castle with his binocular camera and in the company of at least one other photographer from Chester, George Watmough Webster (1842-1919), the son of the druggist who used to work at 36, Bridge Street, where Spencer was now operating from. I say “at least” because a journalist from the Carlisle Journal mentions “three of four photographers […] busy preparing their appliances” . I have not been able to find out who the other disciples of Daguerre may have been but it is possible they were Spencer’s and Webster’s assistants.
A couple of days earlier, Spencer had managed to take two stereo images of the short visit of T.R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales and of their daughter, Princess Victoria of Wales, through Chester. In the first one (number 124), the Prince and the Princess are being presented an address in front of the Town Hall while in the second image (number 125) they are shown in their carriage leaving the same Town Hall.
The Prince and the Princess of Wales left Eaton Hall at 11:30 on Monday May 10th. They were accompanied by their daughter, Toria, the Duke and Duchess of Westminster, Captain George Holford, equerry to the Prince, and Miss Elizabeth Charlotte Knollys, lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Wales. The first part of the journey to Hawarden was spent in the small carriages of the Duke of Westminster’s light railway drawn by a toylike locomotive known as The Kate, in honour of the second Duchess of Westminster, whose first name was Katherine. At the end of the tracks two of the Duke’s carriages were waiting for the illustrious visitors and their suite. The Duke and the Princess of Wales, preceded by two outriders, travelled the rest of the way in a phaeton pulled by a pair of greys and driven by the Duke himself. The Prince and the rest of the party followed in a larger open carriage also drawn by two horses. Shortly before one o’clock the Royal party arrived at the gates of Hawarden castle where, despite the private nature of the visit, there was a small crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of the Heir Apparent to the Throne and his fair consort. The schools had been closed for the day, the occupants of Mrs. Gladstone’s hospice for women had been invited to attend and the villagers, in their Sunday best, were waving flags. The carriages drove through the gate and pulled up in front of the Golden Wedding Porch, opposite which a detachment of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in their tall busbies and under the command of Captain Harlbutt stood on the lawn. The Princess of Wales was the first to alight and very affectionately kissed Mrs. Gladstone who was standing in the porch with her bareheaded husband. A few seconds later, the Prince got off the second carriage and warmly shook the hand of the venerable statesman. Both historic but fleeting moments were captured by Mr. Spencer, standing with his equipment on a fairly high vantage point to the right of the Porch (photos number 120 and 121 in his Gold Medal Series). Soon after the greetings were over the whole party disappeared inside the Castle and “ascended the grand staircase, which was carpeted with crimson cloth and decorated with the most choice flowers and plants.”  They came out a few minutes later at the casement window on the left side. Mr. Gladstone led the Princess of Wales to the lawn, followed by the Duke of Westminster and Mrs. Gladstone. The Prince was walking behind in the company of Messrs. Henry and Herbert Gladstone. Further behind were the Duchess of Westminster, Mrs. W. H. Gladstone, the Princess Victoria and many other members of the Gladstone family, including the Gladstones’ grandchildren. The party made their way towards the ruins of the old castle and Mr. Spencer, who had probably been told beforehand what was going to happen, had enough time to quickly get off his elevated station and hurry to the other side of the mansion where he managed to take a photograph of the Great Old Man and his Royal guests walking towards the ruins (number 122) where they remained for a short while, admiring the view around them.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 120. ROYAL VISIT TO HAWARDEN. H.R.H. The Princess of Wales greeting Mrs. Gladstone.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 121. ROYAL VISIT TO HAWARDEN. H.R.H. The Prince of Wales greeting Mr. Gladstone.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 122. ROYAL VISIT TO HAWARDEN. H.R.H. the Princess of Wales with Mr. Gladstone, Mrs. Gladstone with The Duke of Westminster, and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales with Mr. H. Gladstone.
When they strolled back to the mansion Princess Alexandra was shown four Pomeranian puppies, the progeny of Mr. Gladstone’s favourite dog, two of which were in a basket. Mr. Spencer did not let the occasion pass and took a photograph of this charming inspection (number 123). After this the whole party re-entered the house for lunch. All the time they were there a band, standing on the terrace, played a selection of tunes. As soon as lunch was over, Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, followed by the Prince and the Princess, came down the grand staircase to have their photograph taken inside the porchway. Here is how the journalist from the Carlisle Journal described the “photographic ordeal” that ensued:
|Two chairs, and two only, were placed just within the porchway. Mrs. Gladstone motioned to the Princess to take one of them and the Prince the other. The arrangement was absolutely rejected. The Princess settled the matter according to her wishes. With a pretty imperiousness she put the Prince in one chair and Mrs. Gladstone, vainly protesting, in the other. She herself stood up in the centre of the porch, with Mr. Gladstone on her right hand, at once courteous, benignant, and deferential in his aspect, in a fashion that only Mr. Gladstone can be. The Prince was in a joyous mood. He laughingly waved back the Duke of Westminster and others who might have come within the four corners of the picture to be taken. It was to be a picture of four, and four only. When the Princess was a little recalcitrant in obeying the orders of the photographers he laughed aloud, and when that photographer, in rather piteous tones, appealed Mrs. Gladstone to turn her eyes on a hand he held up his mirth was unrestrained. Indeed this domination of the Royal party – even by a photographer – certainly was comic. Mr. Gladstone’s mellow, deep-toned laugh was heard and the Princess was all smiles. When the four had assumed a moderate sedateness the photographers did their work twice over; but one will be astonished if there is not something of hilarity about the picture when it is produced. |
Mr. Spencer took two pictures of the Prince, the Princess and their hosts. In one of them (number 118) a gentleman in a top hat can be seen, on the extreme left, in the right hand side half of the stereo pair. In the other one (number 119) it is a little girl in a white dress and trying to hide who is visible on the right, standing next to a huge and rather menacing metal trap. In the left hand side of the pair a blurred boy in a kilt can also be made out. These unexpected “photo bombers”, as well as the empty chair in front of the porch are what actually make these two images so precious, so unique and so endearing. What was supposed to be a rather formal group portrait turned out to be something more relaxed and more natural, all the more so as the four main subjects were totally unaware of what was happening on either side of the porch. It is therefore a good thing Mr. Spencer could not, or would not, step closer to the sitters.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 118. T.R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales with Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone in the Golden Wedding Porch, Hawarden Castle.
James Hampson Spencer, No. 119. T.R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales with Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone in the Golden Wedding Porch, Hawarden Castle. Rebecca Sharpe’s Collection.
Soon after these pictures were captured their Royal Highnesses said their good-byes, got back into the carriage and drove away, followed by the Gladstones, to the tune of the National Anthem. They headed for Sandycroft railway station where a special train took the Prince, the Princess and their daughter back to London.
Even with the Royal pair gone Mr. Spencer’s memorable day was not entirely over, however, for the photographs he took on that occasion put his name in the limelight for the following months. One of his images was used as the basis for a drawing by Samuel Begg (1854-1936) which was published on the front page of the May 22nd 1897 issue of The Illustrated London News.
Illustrated London News. No. 3031. Vol. CX. Saturday, May 22nd, 1897. Front page. “Royal visit to Hawarden: the Prince and Princess of Wales, with Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, being photographed by Mr. J. H. Spencer, of Chester, in the Golden Wedding Porch, Hawarden Castle”. Illustration by Samuel Begg.
Mr. Spencer dutifully sent prints from his stereoscopic negatives to the Princess of Wales who gracefully accepted the present but did not stop there, as was reported in the press on June 16th:
|THE ROYAL VISIT TO HAWARDEN. – Mr. J. H. Spencer, of Bridge-street, Chester, has been the recipient of a high compliment from the Princess of Wales. Mr. Spencer, it will be remembered, was permitted to photograph the Prince and Princess, along with Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, in the Golden Wedding Porch at Hawarden Castle. He also secured other negatives of the Royal party during the visit, and her Royal Highness, in accepting from him a set of stereoscopic prints, expressed herself much pleased, and desired enlargements from them. These Mr. Spencer forwarded last week, and he has received the following reply: “Sandringham, Norfolk, June 8th 1897. Miss Knollys is desired to say that the enlarged photographs arrived safely. The Princess of Wales is much pleased with them.” |
James Hampson Spencer waited no time in making the most of the Princess’s “high compliment” and on Saturday 19th, the readers of the Cheshire Observer could read the following advertisement on the front page of their favourite newspaper:
|H.R.H. THE PRINCESS OF WALES has graciously accepted a set of stereoscopic photographs taken by J. H. Spencer on the occasion of the late Royal visit and commissioned him to make enlarged copies of each. Her Royal Highness has expressed herself much pleased with both the stereo-prints and the enlargements.|
Copies are now on sale at the following prices: –
8½ ins. by 6½ ins., Silver 2s.; Platinum, 3s. each. 10 ins. by 8 ins. Silver 2s. 6d.; Platinum, 5s. as ordered by the Princess of Wales.
J. H. SPENCER, 36, BRIDGE STREET, CHESTER. 
James Hampson Spencer. No. 145. HAWARDEN CASTLE, The Home of Mr. Gladstone. A Peep at the Castle.
Just over a year after the visit of the Prince and the Princess of Wales, James Hampson Spencer was back at Hawarden Castle with his stereo camera. The occasion was not such a joyful one, however. Mr. Gladstone had died on May 19th 1898 and Spencer had got permission, or was commissioned, to photograph his remains lying in his study. He took a number of stereoscopic images of the body of the late statesman, but also pictures of the bedroom where he died, of the mansion, of the view from the window of Mr. Gladstone’s study, of the nearby church, and of the funeral procession passing through Hawarden Park, on their way to Hawarden Chuch where the body lay in state on Wednesday May 25th before being moved to London in the evening for the state funeral that took place at Westminster Abbey on the 28th. The photos of Mr. Gladstone’s mortal remains (numbers 150 to 152) were copyrighted on May 26th, along with one image of the bedroom (number 153), those of the funeral procession (numbers 154 and 155) were deposited on June 4th. They were all published as part of Spencer’s Gold Medal Series which was continued after that to include photos of Wales and a large number of images of Ireland released under the generic title “GEMS OF THE EMERALD ISLES”. In the absence of a catalogue it is difficult to know how many images there are in Spencer’s Gold Medal Series. The highest number I have seen so far is 279.
Spencer’s interest in stereoscopy did not diminish and in 1899 he was showing stereoscopic photographs in natural colours obtained with the system developed by Fredrick Ives. This process, derived from the one invented by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) in the 1860s, used three black and white images respectively taken then viewed through red, blue and green filters. Strange though it may seem, it works really well once you manage to align all three images correctly, and Chromographs were the first successful commercial colour photographs .
Later that same year (December 22nd 1899) the Duke of Westminster died and six months later (June 14th 1900), Mrs. Gladstone joined her husband in his grave. Prince Albert Edward became King on January 22nd 1901, when his mother Queen Victoria breathed her last after a reign of over sixty-three years. James Hampson Spencer never saw him crowned though nor had an opportunity to photograph the new monarch. He passed away on February 10th 1901, two months before he could celebrate his 49th birthday, and was buried on February 13th. His obituary in the Liverpool Daily Post stresses his interest in stereoscopy and his skills as a stereo photographer at a time when most stereoviews available on the market were produced in the United States. It also mentions Spencer’s red-letter day, nearly four years after the event:
|DEATH OF A DISTINGUISHED PHOTOGRAPHER|
The death is greatly lamented amongst a large circle of friends and scientists in Chester and North Wales of Mr. J. H. Spencer, who had carried on the business of chemist for a period of twenty-five years in Bridge Street, Chester. Mr. Spencer, who died on Sunday, had been suffering from a painful malady for some months past. Deceased, who leaves a widow and two children, was specially distinguished for his extraordinary ability in producing interesting photographs, more especially stereoscopic views, in which he has done some of the most remarkable work that has yet been witnessed in Great Britain. For such work he has been awarded gold and other medals at various occasions, and on one occasion he was fortunate enough to secure a handsome photograph of the present King and Queen, Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, and the Duke and Duchess of Westminster, at Hawarden Castle. This was considered a unique and really exquisite series, which earned for him the commendation of connoisseurs of stereoscopic and other photography. He was closely identified with the photograph section of the Chester Science Society, and was equally interested in the work which tended to further scientific pursuits in connection with the Grosvenor Museum, Chester. 
Spencer’s wife, Mary, survived him by thirty-two years. She remained in the Chester area and died there on 5 June 1933. Being a widow with two young children at the time of her husband’s death my guess is she had to sell as much as she could to be able to bring up her son and daughter. However, she is described in the 1901 and 1911 censuses as living on her own means and her 1933 probate shows effects worth over £3300 of the time so one may assume the sale of Spencer’s business must have brought some money and helped her live relatively well.
Spencer’s images did not entirely disappear with him. Some of his pictures had a second lease of life when they were published as stereoscopic postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons . The illustration below is a reprint of stereo card No. 45 in Spencer’s Gold Medal Series. It was originally copyrighted on August 26th 1895 with the following description: ‘Photograph [stereoscopic] of five girls paddling in sea at Blackpool, end of North Pier in background to the right. Reflections of the figures in wet sand of foreground. Number on back of photograph 45’. The postcard itself was published in or after 1904. We know this because it is a “Silverette” and Silverettes – images printed with a glossy finish to make them look more like real photographs – were released by the firm from 1904 onwards.
James Hampson Spencer. The Happy Paddlers, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons around 1904. This is not the original title and when you look at the faces of the paddlers you will notice they are anything but happy.
There is a lot more I would like to find out about James Hampson Spencer, his life and his stereoscopic work , but I do hope this short introduction to the man and his photographs will have been educational, entertaining, and maybe even inspiring.
 A fuller is a person who gathers or pleats fabric to make a garment full.
 Cheshire Observer, Saturday, August 3rd 1878, p. 2.
 I must confess I would love to find those glass stereos. If you have any information about them please contact me at email@example.com. Thank you!
 Chester Courant, Wednesday February 12th 1896, p. 6.
 Cheshire Observer, Saturday September 12th 1896, p. 1.
 Cheshire Observer, Saturday April 3rd 1897, p. 1.
 Carlisle Journal, Friday May 14th 1897, p. 2.
 Liverpool Daily Post, Tuesday May 11th 1897, p. 6.
 Carlisle Journal, Idem.
 Chester Courant, Wednesday June 16th 1897, p. 7.
 Cheshire Observer, Saturday June 19th 1897, p. 1.
 I would love to find some of the chromographs produced by Mr. Spencer. If you know of any, please contact me at the email address provided in note 3.
 Liverpool Daily Post, 12 February, p. 6.
 Raphael Tuck, the founder of the company, actually died before Spencer, on March 16th 1900, but his sons carried on his work. Tuck & Sons became one of the greatest publishers of postcards in the first decade of the twentieth century.  I have started compiling a catalogue of Spencer’s Gold Medal Series, using copyright slips, photographs in a couple of collections and images seen on the Internet. Some help would be most welcome as there are still big gaps in it.