Henry Brooks, Salisbury Photographer

Henry Brooks, Salisbury Photographer

The First Family Photographer at Stonehenge?

By Denis Pellerin and Rebecca Sharpe

This article originated from the finding of a single stereo card in the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy by co-curator Rebecca Sharpe. Stereo cards are photos pasted on a cardboard mount that were published in the Victorian era and enabled our forefathers to discover the world in three dimensions without leaving their fireside. Millions of stereo images were issued during the second half of the nineteenth century, after their introduction at the 1851 Great Exhibition [1]. The card in question represented a British family at Stonehenge and what drew Rebecca’s attention to it was the fact that she had read about an exhibition, organised by English Heritage Stonehenge, called “Your Stonehenge”. The exhibition consisted of family photos taken at the iconic Wiltshire site from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Opened in 2020, the exhibition had to close its doors on account of the pandemic, has only recently reopened and is currently running until August 2022 (the stereoscopic cabinet with the image below will be on display there until at least the end of Sept. 2021). The earliest photo there was dated 1875 and it was clear to Rebecca that the photo she had found was earlier. It was not the best or even sharpest image in the archive but it was definitely worth a second look and some investigation. It bore a wet stamp on its back which read: H. Brooks Photographer, High-street, Salisbury.

Illustration 01-Brooks's Stonehenge image-Fsmalllogocopy

Illustration 01. Henry Brooks. The photographer’s family at Stonehenge around 1863-5. Reproduced by kind permission of the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy.

Illustration 02-Brooks's Stonehenge imageRsmalllogo

Illustration 02. Henry Brooks. Detail from the back of the previous stereo card showing Brooks’s  partly illegible wet stamp. Reproduced by kind permission of the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy.

This is where I stepped in and together we started digging in various sources to find more about this Brooks person and the circumstances behind that image.

Henry Brooks was born at East Harnham, Wiltshire, on March 22nd 1825, the fifth child of William Brooks (1790-1864), a horsehair weaver, and of his wife Sarah Bishop (1784-1851). Henry was baptised on June 5th at the Wesleyan Church of Salisbury like his brothers and sister had been before him [2]. Nothing is known of Henry’s childhood and school years but the 1841 census shows that the Brooks family was still living at East Harnham where Henry, who was sixteen by then, had become a wood turner. Six years later, on April 7th, Henry Brooks, now living at Quidhampton, married Caroline Coombs (1820-1902), the daughter of a shoe-maker, five years his senior. Their first child, Harry, was born in 1850 but died before he reached his first birthday. In the 1851 census Henry Brooks is still listed as a wood turner but the 1855 Post Office Directory of Wiltshire describes him as a carver and gilder, living on High-street, Salisbury. By then Caroline Brooks had given birth to a second son who was named Frank (1854-1937). From an advertisement published in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal in May 1873, it appears that Henry Brooks became a photographer in or around 1855. His obituary, published in the Western Chronicle, further reveals that he was “the first in Salisbury to produce a photograph on paper, having ground and polished his own lenses and made his own camera” [3]. The same journalist also mentions that Henry’s “hobby during his early years, being an excellent though self-taught optician, was the study of the microscope. He also studied astronomy, and built himself an observatory, making his own equatorial telescope, which was driven by clockwork. He took many photographs of the moon, from which he made a large map, showing the mountains, valleys, plains, with their names, heights, depths, &c. It was then photographed and purchased by all the leading astronomers, including the Astronomer Royal” [4]. Since no accurate dates and no sources are provided it is difficult to verify these statements which clearly show, however, that Henry Brooks must have been very clever with his hands and had a real passion for optics. The first “official” mention of Henry’s photographic career appears in the 1859 Post Office Directory of Wiltshire, where he is listed as “Henry Brooks, photographist, High-street”. 1859 is also the year when his wife gave birth to a daughter, Caroline Jane (1859-1921). In 1857 a second son had been born who was named Harry, like his brother before him but who again, sadly, only lived for one year. 

Illustration 04-Sedgfield-Close Gate Salisburysmalllogo

Illustration 03. William Russell Sedgfield. The Close Gate, High Street, Salisbury. This stereo must have been taken when Brooks was already a photographer on High Street. Around 1859. Reproduced by kind permission of the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy.

In the 1861 census we can see the name of the four living members of the Brooks family, Henry, the head, a thirty-six year old “photographist”, his wife Caroline, their six-year old son, Frank, a scholar, and their two-year old daughter Caroline. Not very long after the enumerator knocked at their door another son was born, named Harry, like his two former brothers. I am happy to report that the third child to be named Harry did not die in infancy but lived to the age of sixty.

Henry Brooks, unlike some of his photographic colleagues, was not into advertising, which probably saved him some money but is a real pity for the historian. From April to August 1863, however, the following appeared weekly in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal:


MR. H. BROOKS having heard that there is a Report set on foot, by some Person or Persons, that he has GIVEN UP TAKING PORTRAITS, he begs to inform his friends and the public that such is not the case. He is now fitting up more Extensive Premises, for the better accommodation of parties who may favour him with a call. The high encomiums passed upon his Carte de Visite and other Portraits, by thousands of competent judges, and the long time they have been before the public, need no further comment.

Portraits of Animals, Views of Buildings or Landscapes, as usual.

That same year, up to April 1864, Brooks also announced in the same publication his move to 60 High Street, the “more extensive” premises he had been mentioning:


MR. H. BROOKS begs to inform his Friends and the Public generally that he is REMOVED to his NEW PREMISES, near the CLOSE GATE, HIGH-STREET, where every convenience will be found by parties wishing Carte de Visite or other Portraits. His Photographs are so well known that they need no puff. Portraits of Animals, Views of Buildings, &c., &c., as usual.

The stereo photograph by Brooks, in illustration 01, must have been taken around that period, some time between 1863 and 1865. It shows the Brooks family at Stonehenge and was taken sequentially. It means that the image was produced with a single camera which was fixed on a tripod and moved laterally between exposures. Brooks, like most of his colleagues at the time, must have used the wet collodion process, which implies that, in order to obtain this picture, he had to bring a portable darkroom (specially equipped wheelbarrow, horse-drawn van or tent), coat the glass plate with a sticky layer of collodion [5], sensitise it with silver nitrate, in the dark, put the still wet plate in the holder, place the holder in the camera, take the first half of the stereoscopic pair, move the camera a couple of inches to the right, expose the other half of the plate, go back to his darkroom, and finally develop, fix, wash, dry and varnish the resulting negative at once so that paper prints could be made from it later on. 

It is easy to see from the above description how lucky we are, in this day and age, to be able to do the same, in less than two seconds, with a smartphone and view the result, in 3D, without having to wait. The photograph below was taken recently at the same angle as Brooks’s image and clearly shows that, between the 1860s and the present days, the stone on which Mrs Brooks, Caroline Jane and Frank were sitting seems to have sunk a couple of inches into the ground.

Illustration 03-Stonehenge-Smartphone photo by Rebeccasmall

Illustration 04. Modern stereo photograph taken sequentially with a smartphone by Rebecca Sharpe at the same angle as Brooks’ image.

Going back to Henry Brooks’s Stonehenge picture, it is precisely the time it took to obtain the two halves of the stereoscopic pair which makes us think that the three sitters in the foreground are not mere visitors but members of Brooks’s family, used to the rather lengthy process of taking sequential stereo pairs and trained to sit very still. We very much doubt Brooks would would have asked perfect strangers, not necessarily aware of photographic operations, to pose for him. Our theory will hopefully be confirmed when we find named photos showing Mrs Brooks and her children. The length of the double exposure also explains why the person we think is Mrs Brooks is gracefully holding her head with the fingers of her right hand and why the girl we assume is Caroline Jane is leaning on her left elbow. It must definitely have helped them keep perfectly still. Both also conveniently have their eyes down. As for the boy we suppose to be Frank, either he could not keep his features still or he was being mischievous and making faces but, whatever the reason, his father decided to photograph him with his back to the camera. Of the other people in the picture, friends, acquaintances, or simply visitors to the site, only the gentleman closest to Frank has kept perfectly still. The lady on the left has moved quite a lot and the gentleman on the right, who can only be made out next to the leaning sarsen stone, has shifted a little too.

Brooks does not seem to have taken a lot of stereo images. There is another sample of his stereoscopic work in the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy showing Salisbury Cathedral and bearing the same wet stamp on the back but that’s it. The carte-de-visite portraits he produced are more common to find and, as is evidenced from the illustrations below, the letterpress on the back becomes more elaborate over the years.

Illustration 05-Brooks-CDVs-Front and three backssmalllogo

Illustration 05. Sample of a Brooks CDV and backs of three of his carte-de-visite portraits. Rebecca Sharpe’s collection.

In the 1871 census, Henry Brooks, now forty-six years old, is listed as an “Artist and Photographer” while Caroline and Frank are respectively described as “Artist’s wife” and “Artist’s son”. The two youngest children, Caroline Jane and Arthur, are written down as scholars. In 1873 Henry Brooks, who had not advertised for the past ten years had the following inserted in the columns of the Salisbury and Winchester Journal:



MR. H. BROOKS, in thanking his numerous Patrons and Friends for their support during the last 18 years, takes the present opportunity of announcing that in addition to his ordinary Photography, he has secured for Salisbury and its surrounding Neighbourhood the exclusive License for finishing Photographs by the Patent Vander Weyde Process, known as the Atmospheric stippled effect, producing finer results than artists have previously been able to secure. Specimens, both plain and coloured by this process, may be seen at his establishment.

Mr. B., as usual, undertakes to Paint, in Oil or Water Colours, Portraits, Animals, Landscapes and Miniatures. Photographs of all descriptions Coloured in Oil, Water Colour, or Crayons. Gentlemen’s Residences taken, Interiors and Exteriors. Local Views of Salisbury and Neighbourhood. Frames of all descriptions to order. Mouldings in the length, &c., &c. [6]

The process Brooks describes in this advertisement was the invention of Dutch-born painter and photographer Henry Van der Weyde (1838-1924) who was to open a photographic studio in 1877 at 182 Regent Street, London, and became the first photographer to take portraits by electric light. At the 1874 exhibition of the Photographic Society he exhibited six photographs finished by his process. At that time Brooks was apparently becoming increasingly interested in painting, as the second part of his advert and his mention of painting photographs in oil and water colour suggests. Getting more and more into painting, Brooks gradually gave up photography and in 1881 he told the census enumerator that he was an “Artist painter”. The following year his eldest son, Frank, who was also a painter, had exhibited a portrait at the Royal Academy in 1880 and was to exhibit there regularly from 1891 onwards, married one Bertha Smith, a young woman from Guernsey, at Alderbury, Wiltshire. Frank was to become a renowned portrait painter and included among his sitters Kings Edward VII and George V, as well as His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor, the future Kind Edward VIII. Some of his works can be seen at artuk.org. The pencil portrait reproduced below is not of royalty but of a Salisbury girl, Josephine Frances Snook, who, although born in July 1877 at Wandsworth, London, moved to Salisbury at an early age, and was already there at the time of the 1881 census, living at 61, Silver Street with her father, Joseph Francis Snook, a butcher, her mother Elizabeth and her half sister Kate Mary, four years her senior. [7]

Illustration 06-Snook Josephine Frances by Frank Brookssmall

Illustration 06. Frank Brooks. Pencil portrait of Josephine Frances Snooks. Although undated this stunning portrait must have been made around 1882 when Josephine was about five years old. Denis Pellerin’s collection.

In 1885 Henry Brooks, who still had his photographic studio, copyrighted a “Photograph of Stonehenge restored after model of design for restoration suggested by Dr Stukeley and prepared by Mr Osmond” [8]. It is an interesting image not only because it takes us back to Stonehenge but also because it appears to be one of the few photographs he copyrighted throughout his photographic career [9]. It can be seen below.

Illustration 07-Brooks-Model of Stonehenge-editingsmalllogo

Illustration 07. Henry Brooks. Photograph of model showing a view of Stonehenge as it would have appeared when completed. Copyrighted in 1885. Rebecca Sharpe’s collection.

Four years after that image of the Stonehenge model was copyrighted Kelly’s Directory of Wiltshire lists Henry Brooks, of 60 High Street, Salisbury, in its Artists section. It is also exclusively as an “Artist” that Brooks is described in the 1891 census. In that same year two of his paintings, The corner of the fold and Contentment, were exhibited at the Royal Academy, not very far from his son Frank’s contribution, a portrait of Mrs. Raymond Groom [10]. By that time Henry’s photographic studio had been taken over by his younger son Harry, twenty-nine, who was not at Salisbury on the day of the census but was visiting his brother Frank and is listed as a photographer. Harry had married one Frances Elizabeth Symes in 1894 and his marriage certificate already describes him as a photographer. His sister Caroline Jane had married two years earlier and was now Mrs Francis Charles Bayliss. 

The 1901 census shows that Henry Brooks was still living at 60 High Street where he is listed as an “Artist, Sculptor and Picture Restorer”. Postcards from the early 1900s show the sign H. Brooks, Picture Restorer & Picture Frame Maker. Harry, who was now in charge of the photographic studio, was living on the same street, at number 45, with his wife, and their three children, Victor Harry, Alan and Olive. Five more children were born after the census, Ralph, Harold, Nina Beatrice, Maud and Madeline. 

Illustration 08-Brooks-CPA Rebeccasmalllogo

Illustration 08. 1963 reproduction of a postcard from the early 1900s showing Brooks’ shop near the Close Gate, Salisbury. It is possible to make out the words Brooks, Artist, and Photographer, painted on the shop window. Rebecca Sharpe’s collection.

On March 23rd 1902 Caroline Brooks, née Coombs, passed away. Her husband, artist and retired photographer Henry Brooks, survived her by seven years and died at Bermerton, west of Salisbury, on June 19th 1909. 

Both Harry and Caroline Jane died in 1921. The last surviving child, Frank, passed away in 1937. In 1939, however, Harry’s wife, Frances Elizabeth, was still living at 60 High Street, along with her son Harold, a motor mechanic, and two of her daughters Olive, a sub-postmistress, and Madeline, a hairdresser assistant. One of her sons, Alan, had been killed in France in 1918, just a few months before the end of the First World War. The eldest son, Victor Harry, a cashier, was living on Queen Alexandra Street with his wife Winifred Edith. I am afraid I have no idea whether Frances and Harry’s other children were still alive then. When Frances Elizabeth died in Salisbury on September 22nd 1950, she was still occupying the family house at 60, High Street.

Current Happenings with the Brooks Stereoview

You can watch a recording of the Livestream of Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge and see an interview with Dr. Brian May and his two curators, discussing the Brooks stereoview, its significance to Stonehenge and stereoscopy in general here. As seen in the interview, this stereoview and others are part of the ‘Your Stonehenge’ exhibition, at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, and can be viewed in a specially-made stereoscopic cabinet, made by Dr. May’s team and loaned by him to the exhibition until the end of September 2021. The stereoview was discussed in the ‘International and Stereoscopic Media Conference 2021’, you can click here for a link to the YouTube video (making it an anaglyph though with so much background depth is definitely not the best way to view it!). Denis Pellerin was also interviewed by American news show CBS: This Morning Saturday, about the stereo card, filmed by R. Sharpe, and this was televised on Saturday 14th August 2021. You can watch it on CBS’s website.

Denis & Rebecca

Copyright © The Stereoscopy Blog. All rights reserved.


[1] The principle behind binocular vision was discovered by British physicist Charles Wheatstone who, in 1832, designed an instrument, which he named “stereoscope” (Solid I see). Wheatstone’s stereoscope used mirrors at a 90 degree angle to fuse the two hand-drawn perspectives of a simple geometrical figure seen respectively by the left and right eyes. The figures had to be hand-drawn because photography had not been revealed to the world yet. Wheatstone presented his invention to the Royal Society on June 21st 1838. This day marks the official birth of Stereoscopy. The stereoscope was modified and made more portable in the late 1840s. The mirrors were replaced by lenses and the images were put side by side on the same support  (metal, glass, or cardboard). The development of photography from 1839 onwards made it easier to produce the two perspectives necessary to the illusion of three-dimensionality created by the stereoscope. A booming industry developed from 1852 and the first stereoscopic craze reached its peak from the late 1850s to the mid 1860s. 

[2] William and Sarah Brooks’ first three children, William (1812-1846), Mary (1814-1856) and James (1816-1857) were all baptised on February 13th 1821. The baptism of the fourth child, Thomas (1821-1894) took place on July 23rd of the same year.

[3] Western Chronicle, June 25th1901, p. 5.

[4] Idem.

[5] Collodion is a solution of cellulose nitrate dissolved in ether and alcohol. It was first used as a surgical dressing before being applied to photography by Frederick Scott Archer as early as 1851. Collodion gradually replaced the first photographic processes, the daguerreotype and the calotype.

[6] Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Saturday May 31st  1873, p. 5.

[7] Josephine Frances Snook did not get married and lived with her parents until they passed away. She never left Salisbury and died there on May 22nd 1975.

[8] Dr or Reverend Stukeley (1687-1765) was an antiquarian and a pioneer in the study of stone circles and prehistoric monuments, Stonehenge included. He was the first secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London and although a lot of his theories have since been rejected he is considered a forerunner of archeology.

[9] On October 4th he copyrighted a photograph of one of his paintings, entitled The Salisbury and Coombe Express. Old woman and donkey cart. On February 23rd 1878 he deposited at Stationers’ Hall two photographs of Mrs Ann Fowler, née Bowles (1781-1878) the wife of Dr. Richard Fowler (1765-1865), one of the founders of the Salisbury Museum. One of the images shows her “seated by a table”, the other one “in garden dress with spade”. Mrs Fowles had died less than three weeks before, on February 3rd. Brooks painted a portrait of the same Mrs Fowler in 1885. The oil canvas, in the collections of the Salisbury Museum, can be seen on artuk.org.

[10] Some of Henry Brooks’s paintings are at the Salisbury Museum. They can be seen on artuk.org.

2 thoughts on “Henry Brooks, Salisbury Photographer

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