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Moses Bowness

Moses Bowness (1833-1894)

Moses Bowness built arguably the largest photographic business in Westmorland and practiced in Ambleside between 1856 and 1894 where he had many well-known sitters for his carte-de-visite photographs. Born into a copper-miner’s family in Coniston he was an example of the Victorian ethic of self-help – a man of little education but of great enterprise. At the age of 17, he was working as a farm labourer whilst his 11 year old brother was at the mine with his father.

It is not known how he came to take up photography but he must have been well enough established by 1857 because in May he went to nearby Grasmere to photograph the young Prince of Wales and his party on their tour of the Lakes – a long description of the tour was given in the local Westmorland Gazette. From then on he displayed “Photographer to HRH the Prince of Wales” on the reverse of his carte-de-visite.

A man of much energy, he went on to build his photographic establishment, a hotel and shops; farm 500 acres; become Secretary to the Hawkshead Agricultural Society; Director of the new Gas Company; encourage the tourist trade in Ambleside; exhibit his photographs at the Photographic Society of London which in 1894 became the Royal Photographic Society; give evidence to the Ambleside Railway Enquiry; work to save Stock Ghyll and to make some reputation as a poet.

By 1861, Moses was married with a growing business. He had married Isabella Slater the widow of a local builder. She ran his private hotel and her children helped in his business.

He married his second wife in the registry office at Kendal 18 months after the death of Isabella. She was the much younger Helena Hudlestone, the heiress of a director of the East India Company. They lived in Belmount, the Georgian house later bought by Miss Owen, a friend of Beatrix Potter.

He died a few days after being thrown from his carriage in 1894 near the Windermere ferry at Sawrey and was buried in his father’s grave at Coniston. Helena was his sole heir. She sold up and left the district. All that remains today to remember Moses is a wealth of carte-de-visite and cabinet cards, a collection of over 400 glass negatives now held in the Kendal Carnegie Library Collection, and a few entries in old gazetteers. For a while he became a forgotten man.