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The Brunskill Collection at The Armitt and Beyond

Ambleside and the Armitt Museum is this summer playing host to some of its former residents and visitors. Those who lived in, worked in and visited the area 150 years ago have now reappeared as individual photographic portraits throughout the town as part of the Armitt Museum’s ‘Still Lives’ summer exhibition. 

The individual photographic portraits are the work of the Brunskill brothers, who from 1865 to 1906 ran a photographic studio in Bowness. Almost the complete life’s work of this photographic studio is now held by the Armitt Museum and includes a vast archive of 17,800 photographs on glass plates. This is a rare and important survival giving an invaluable insight into the Victorian world and its inhabitants, and 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, Benson, 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. 

This however is an exhibition about community, hosted by the community, and so overflows 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 has taken up residence in the Golden Rule, and in the White Lion, the formidable P.C.Greenbank keeps the peace. All over Ambleside are the faces of people who were here long before us and of course they include that now almost legendary bespectacled, pipe smoking Jack Russell, a truly heroic figure known only as ‘Mr Sedgwick’s dog’. 

This is an exhibition which highlights an unusually rare collection; rare not only for its almost complete survival and as an important resource for the family historian and anyone with an interest in photographic and social history, but also as a singularly beautiful and fascinating collection in itself. These portraits, in their quiet austerity, still have the power to fascinate. They have an extraordinary sense of timelessness – the paradox of presence and absence made sharper by the passage of time. 

Still Lives: Photographs from the Brunskill Collection will take place at the Armitt Museum and throughout Ambleside from 1st May 2017.

The Brunskill Collection at The Armitt and Beyond - Edmonson family 1865
The Brunskill Collection at The Armitt and Beyond - Miss Midgley
The Brunskill Collection at The Armitt and Beyond - John Lupton 1865
The Brunskill Collection at The Armitt and Beyond - Mr Sedgwick's dog