The Folly Buys the Horner Collection!

We have been blown away by Settle’s amazing response to our fundraiser to buy the Horner Collection! Over £5000 has been raised help us preserve it for the public to enjoy for years to come.

The Horner Collection is a group of over 1000 photographs which were taken by the Horner family who ran a photography studio in Settle from 1864 to 1960. Their photographs capture the changing faces and places of Settle and the surrouding areas for nearly a hundred years.

In the 1850s and 1860s, photography was a new and exciting technology. Michael Horner, jr. (nephew of the Michael Horner who was one of the discoverers of Victoria Cave) went into business in 1864, advertising in the Settle Chronicle that he had “spent four months in one of the leading Photographic Studios in Manchester…” and had now “commenced the business at his father’s address, Market Place Settle”. He shared the shop with his father, Thomas Horner, a painter, gilder and glazier, so their premises must have been rather crowded. Michael went on to kit out his gallery with “many accessories” and by 1865 was advertising stereoscopic images and postcards of local landmarks for sale for the price of one shilling.

Michael used the collodion process of developing photographs. It was less expensive than earlier methods and exposure times were much shorter. However, the photographs needed to be developed right away before the plate dried (collodion is also called “wet plate photography”). Michael therefore used a small tent as a potable darkroom where he immersed the wet plate in a solution of silver nitrate before placing it in the camera and exposing it to the light to capture the image. Incidentally, this association of silver with photography is the origin of the idea that vampires cannot be seen in photographs, as in myth they cannot interact with silver. Michael then developed his images by pouring over a solution of pyrogallic acid and fixed them with a strong solution of sodium thiosulfate. These were very noxious chemicals, and although the official cause of death, aged just 26, was consumption, it is entirely possible that poisonous fumes contributed to his early death.

Michael’s younger brother Anthony took up the business in 1869, aged just 16, and probably not very experienced. He became a Quaker, marrying Elizabeth Ann Holmes, and in 1898, perhaps tired of sharing his studio with his father, uncle and brother, he moved the Horner Photographic Studio to new premises on Station Road (then New Street). Anthony was especially gifted at family and individual portraits, able to capture the essence of his sitter even in a formal studio setting.

The last Horner to run the studio was Anthony’s son, Edward Holmes Horner, who completed a seven year apprenticeship with his father. He carried on the business for another 55 years. Eddie was well known for both portraits and views around the area, often covering weddings and family gatherings, and even being called to photograph prize cattle. He died in 1960 and is buried at the Quaker burial ground along with his wife, Winifred Doris, neé Birchall. The business was ultimately bought by Ken and Jean Jelley, who preserved the glass plate negatives which comprise the Horner Collection.

Mrs Jelley contacted The Folly in 2020, looking to sell the collection to the museum. Trustees were determined to save this important collection and began raising funds to buy them. They were able to secure a grant from the V&A Purchase Fund, to cover half of the cost of buying the collection.

The V&A Purchase Fund has been running since 1881, so it is older than many of the photographs in the Horner Collection! The Fund supports the purchase of a wide range of material for the permanent collections of non-nationally funded organisations in England and Wales. Grant funding awarded by the Trust is allocated by Arts Council England from money raised every year by National Lottery players. This year, the Trust also supported the purchase of a 70kg Roman lead ingot for the Craven Museum, Skipton, Beach Scene by L.S. Lowry for Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, Northumberland, and a series of silkscreen prints by artist Khadija Saye from 2017-18 for The Zubarán Trust, Bishop Auckland, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

We are now working to set up a project to digitise, research and display the Horner Collection as a permanent exhibition at The Folly. This will involve a dedicated team of volunteers working alongside a paid member of staff to catalogue the photographs, scan them, and identify any conservation issues. Ultimately, we plan to create an online catalogue of every photograph in the collection which can be used by researchers, family historians and members of the public alike.

If you would like to donate towards the ongoing project to digitise and catalogue the Horner Collection, you can do so online, send a cheque to the North Craven Building Preservation Trust, The Folly, Victoria Street, BD24 9EY or make a donation directly by bank transfer. Please include a note indicating that it is a donation to the Horner Collection project.


Author: Caitlin Greenwood, Heritage Development Officer. I’d like to thank Michael J Slater for his excellent article on the Horner family in the North Craven Heritage Trust’s Journal, 2005.