Botham - Brighton

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Benjamin William Botham - Brighton Photographer and Music Hall Proprietor

Benjamin William Botham (1824-1877) - worked as a photographer in Brighton between 1861 and 1868

Benjamin William Botham - Travelling Photographer

Benjamin William Botham was born in the Suffolk market town of Halesworth in 1824, the son of Frances Whiting  (born c1803, Great Yarmouth) and Benjamin Botham senior (born c1802 Southwold, died 1877 Halesworth), a tailor and habit maker. Young Benjamin was baptised in Halesworth, Suffolk on 2nd December 1824. Benjamin Botham came from a family of tailors and drapers and so it is not surprising that he found employment in the local clothing trade. In the early 1850s, Benjamin Botham junior was living in Bridge Street, Halesworth and working as a linen and woollen draper.  

On 20th April 1853, Benjamin Botham married Ellen Bedwell (born 1831, Halesworth), the daughter of Sarah and John Bedwell, a local tailor. The couple's first two children were born in Halesworth. A daughter named Ellen Louisa Botham was born in Halesworth on 2nd April 1854. Their second child, a son named Benjamin William Clayton Botham, was born on 2nd December 1855. 

Around 1856, Benjamin Botham decided to give up his job in the drapery trade to become a travelling photographer. Leaving his home town of Halesworth, Benjamin Botham set off on his travels as an itinerant photographer. By 1857, Benjamin Botham had reached Derbyshire and, according to advertisements in the Derby Mercury, was operating as a photographer from premises at London Road, Derby. Botham remained in Derby for a year or so.  Benjamin and Ellen Botham's third child, Frances Sophia Rosetta Botham, was born at Derby in 1858.  Advertisements in The Matlock Bath Advertiser, published in September 1857, indicate that Benjamin Botham also toured the Matlock area of Derbyshire in order to take photographic portraits. On the first three Tuesdays of September 1857, Botham took portraits in a temporary studio in Museum Parade, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

By the end of 1859, Benjamin Botham had returned to his native town of Halesworth in Suffolk, where his son John Andrew Botham was born during the 4th Quarter of 1859. Not long after the birth of his fourth child, Benjamin Botham set off for the Sussex coast, where he hoped to continue his photographic career.

[ABOVE] The Thoroughfare, Halesworth, Suffolk, photographed around 1905. Benjamin William Botham was born in the Suffolk market town of Halesworth in 1824 and as a young man he worked as a linen and woollen draper in Bridge Street, Halesworth. Around 1856, Benjamin Botham left the drapery trade to become an itinerant  photographer, travelling as far as Derbyshire. In the 1850s, Benjamin Botham set up temporary portrait studios in Matlock Bath and Derby. Botham returned to his home town of Halesworth around 1859, but within a year or so he set off again with his camera, this time heading for the Sussex coast. By 1861, Benjamin Botham had settled in the Suseex seaside resort of Brighton.
 
Benjamin William Botham -  Photographic Artist in Brighton

Around 1860, Benjamin Botham and his family reached the Sussex seaside resort of Brighton. When the census was taken on 7th April 1861, Benjamin W. Botham was living with his wife and four children at 23 Egremont Place, Brighton. On the census return, Benjamin Botham is described as a thirty-six year old "Photographic Artist".

Later that year, Benjamin Botham was taking carte-de-visite portraits at 59 North Street, Brighton, the former photographic studio of pioneer Brighton photographer Robert Farmer (1823-1859). When Robert Farmer died in 1859, the studio at 59 North Street, Brighton, was taken over briefly by a London photographer named William Jex Collings (1837-1890). The 1861 census records William J. Collings, described as a twenty-four year old "Photographic Artist", living at 59 North Street, Brighton, with his older brother Thomas W. Collings, a thirty year old "Farm Servant". It appears that Benjamin Botham acquired the old photographic studio at 59 North Street, Brighton sometime after the census was taken on 7th April 1861.

[ABOVE] Two different trade plate designs used by Benjamin William Botham, photographer of 43 Western Road and 33 Clarence Square, Brighton during the mid-1860s.

By 1862, Benjamin W. Botham had acquired a new photographic studio in Western Road, Brighton. Benjamin W. Botham was listed in local directories as a photographic artist at 43 Western Road and 33 Clarence Square, Brighton between 1863 and 1868. Although the directory listings suggest Benjamin Botham was running two separate studios, it is clear that he only worked from a single studio, the one at 43 Western Road. Botham's photographic studio in Western Road backed on to his home at 33 Clarence Square. Botham's studio and residence spanned 43 Western Road, at the front, and 33 Clarence Square at the rear. Botham's carte-de-visite portraits confirm that his studio was located at 43 Western Road, Brighton. The Botham family's residence at No. 33  Clarence Square provided a rear entrance to his studio.

   

[LEFT] A view of Brighton's Western Road, photographed around 1904. This Edwardian photograph shows the parade of shops in Western Road which stretched from Clarence Street to the entrance of Clarence Square, (numbered from No. 30 to No.45). Benjamin William Botham's photographic studio at 43 Western Road was located in the dark coloured building in the centre of the photograph. When this photograph was taken, No. 43 was occupied by the photographer Edmund Wheeler junior (1836-1909). The two shops to the right of Edmund Wheeler's premises are Seymour & Seymour, art dealers (No.45) and Madame Mary Yorke, milliner (No.46)

Benjamin Botham worked as a photographer in Brighton from 1861 until 1868. When Benjamin Botham sold his photographic business at 43 Western Road to Charles Nathaniel Wootton of Cambridge, he had accumulated nearly 10,000 negatives.

[ABOVE] A detail from a Victorian map of central Brighton showing the location of Benjamin William Botham's photographic studio and residence at 43 Western Road and 33 Clarence Square, Brighton.  In Brighton trade directories, Benjamin William Botham is listed as a photographer at 43 Western Road and 33 Clarence Square, yet it is clear that he only worked from one studio. Botham's carte-de-visite portraits carry a studio address of 43 Western Road, Brighton. Botham's photographic studio in Western Road backed on to his home at 33 Clarence Square. Essentially part of the same building where his studio was located, his residence at No. 33  Clarence Square provided a rear entrance to his studio.

[ABOVE] The trade plate of Benjamin William Botham, photographer of 59 North Street, Brighton (c1861)

[ABOVE] Benjamin William Botham listed as a photographer at 43 Western Road and 33 Clarence Square, Brighton in J. Harrod & Co.'s Postal & Commercial Directory of Brighton (1867).

[ABOVE] The trade plate of Benjamin William Botham, photographic artist at 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1867)
 

Carte-de-Visite Portraits by Benjamin William Botham

[ABOVE] A portrait of an unknown man standing by a pedestal photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 59 North Street, Brighton (c1861). [ABOVE] A hand-coloured portrait of a seated woman, photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1866). [ABOVE] A portrait of a woman wearing a bonnet standing by a window, photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1867).

[ABOVE] The trade plate of Benjamin William Botham,  photographer of 59 North Street, Brighton (c1861) [ABOVE] The trade plate of Benjamin William Botham, artist photographer of 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1866) [ABOVE] The trade plate of Benjamin William Botham, photographic artist of 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1867)
 

[ABOVE] An advertisement placed in the Brighton Guardian newspaper on 15th July 1868 to announce that C. N. Wootton of Cambridge had taken over Benjamin Botham's photographic studio at 43 Western Road, Brighton. In this advertisement, Charles Nathaniel Wootton, the new proprietor of the photographic studio in Western Road, states that "having taken the whole of Mr Botham's Negatives (nearly 10,000), he will  be able to supply Copies at 7s 6d per Dozen, upon receiving the number or name of the party photographed.". Charles Nathaniel Wootton (c1820-1892) ran the photographic studio at 43 Western Road, Brighton with the assistance of his eldest son, Charles Darlow Wootton (1846-1883) until 1870.

 Charles Nathaniel Wootton  - Successor to Benjamin William Botham

On 15th July 1868, a notice in the Brighton Guardian newspaper announced that C. N. Wootton (from Cambridge) had taken over Benjamin Botham's photographic studio at 43 Western Road, Brighton.

The new proprietor of B. W. Botham's former studio at 43 Western Road was Charles Nathaniel Wootton (c1820-1892), a librarian and stationer from Cambridge. Charles Nathaniel Wootton had been born in Cambridge around 1820, the son of Charlotte and Charles Wootton. On 29th April 1845, Charles Nathaniel Wootton married Mary Anne Wybrow (born c1821), the daughter of William Wybrow. This union produced at least five children.

In the Summer of 1868, Charles Nathaniel Wootton established a stationery business at 43 Western Road, Brighton and at the same time acquired Benjamin William Botham's photographic studio. According to a newspaper advertisement published in July 1868, Benjamin Botham passed on nearly 10,000 photographic negatives to his successor.

It appears that Charles Darlow Wootton (born 1846, Cambridge), the eldest son of Charles Nathaniel Wootton, became the main photographer at the studio at 43 Western Road, Brighton. By the end of 1869, the studio at 43 Western Road went under the name of C. N. Wootton & Son.

In 1870, Charles Nathaniel Wootton sold the photographic studio at 43 Western Road, Brighton to the photographer Edmund Wheeler junior (born c1836, Dover) and moved to Cheltenham, where his son Charles Darlow Wootton set up his own photographic studio.

 
The Bothams and the New Oxford Theatre of Varieties

Benjamin William Botham had given up his photographic career in 1868 to become the proprietor of The New Oxford Theatre of Varieties in New Road, Brighton.

A wine and spirit warehouse in New Road had been converted into a music hall in 1863. After four years as a centre for popular entertainment, the building that housed the Oxford Music Hall was destroyed in a fire. Benjamin William Botham saw a business opportunity and invested in the building of a new variety theatre, which became known as the New Oxford Music Hall.

Benjamin William Botham employed Mr Tuppen, a local architect, to create a new music hall. The interior was designed and decorated by the French artist Antoine 'Tony' Dury (born 1819, Lyons). Tony Dury incorporated the emblem used by Botham on his carte-de-visite photographs - a combination of the Royal Arms and the Brighton crest of dolphins.

The New Oxford Music Hall opened to the public on 6th August 1868. Botham's new theatrical venture was a commercial success, but around 1874 he became seriously ill. On 18th December 1877, Benjamin William Botham died at his residence, 6 Marlborough Place, leaving "a widow with two sons and two daughters."

After her husband's death, Mrs Ellen Botham (with the assistance of her two sons, Clayton Botham and John Botham), took over the running of the  New Oxford Music Hall. Mrs Ellen Botham was in charge of the music hall (later re-named the Oxford Theatre of Varieties) until the end of 1881, when she was accused of negligence following the tragic death of a 15 year old lad named George Smythe, who was killed by a Chinese entertainer's cannon during a performance at the Oxford Theatre. [see panel below entitled Tragedy at the Oxford Theatre of Varieties for more details]

At the time of the accidental death of George Smythe at the Oxford Theatre of Varieties in December 1881, Mrs Ellen Botham was already an invalid and in poor health. Mrs Botham was not able to witness the tragic event which took place in the music hall during the evening of 27th December because at that time she was confined to a wheelchair in the theatre's office. During the magisterial enquiry into the death of George Smythe in January 1882, Mrs Botham was not able to make a statement because she had been taken ill and was, according to Dr Edgar Barratt, a medical witness at the enquiry, "in a very dangerous state".

Mrs Ellen Botham, Proprietress of the Oxford Theatre of Varieties, died in Brighton on 28th November 1882 at the age of 51. Mrs Botham's two sons took over the running of the Oxford Music Hall. (Benjamin) Clayton Botham and John Andrew Botham are listed as joint proprietors of the Oxford Theatre of Varieties in New Road, Brighton, until 1890.

Clayton Botham worked as a surveyor and architect. Clayton Botham's architectural firm designed The Eden Theatre in North Road and the Brighton Empire music hall. Early in his working career, John Andrew Botham, Clayton Botham's younger brother, had strong associations with the music hall business. In 1893, John Andrew Botham was the head of the Empire Theatre of Varieties and in 1894 he was the General Manager of the Eden Theatre of Varieties.

[ABOVE] An advertisement placed in the Brighton Guardian newspaper on 5th August 1868 to announce the opening of Benjamin William Botham's New Oxford Theatre of Varieties.

[ABOVE] Mrs Ellen Botham taken seriously ill during the magisterial enquiry into the death of George Smythe at the Oxford Theatre, as reported in the Brighton Examiner newspaper on 10th January 1882. Mrs Botham died 10 months later on 28th November 1882, at the age of 51.

 

[ABOVE] A Victorian engraving showing the interior of a Music Hall with the audience being served drinks at their table. In his advertisements for the New Oxford Theatre of Varieties, Benjamin Botham boasted that "In the Refreshment Department every Article guaranteed First-class Quality".

[ABOVE] A full-page advertisement for Benjamin William Botham's Oxford Theatre of Varieties, taken from a Brighton directory published in 1875. The bill included "Negro, Comic and Buffo (funny bass) Singing"

[ABOVE] The famous burlesque dancer Lydia Thompson photographed in 1867. Botham's advertisements for the Oxford Theatre of Varieties frequently mentions performances by "Burlesque Actresses and Dancers"

 

 Tragedy at the Oxford Theatre of Varieties

On the evening of 27th December 1881, George Smythe, the fifteen year old son of Eliza and Charles Smythe of No. 2 Foundry Street, Brighton, attended the evening show at Mrs Ellen Botham's Oxford Theatre of Varieties in New Road. On the bill was Mr Fred Craven, a tenor vocalist, two Irish comedians named Perry and Caney, Miss Flory St Louis, a performer of comic songs, and an acrobat named Monsieur Zampi, described in the theatre's publicity as "the only one-leg Gymnast in the World". Perhaps the most intriguing sounding name in the list of performers was Ali Ling Look, a Chinese entertainer billed as "The Great Chinese Salamander - the Lord of Fire, cannon and Sword".

Ali Ling Look, entertained the audience at Oxford Theatre of Varieties by performing a series of apparently dangerous stunts involving the swallowing of a long walking stick, rubbing a red-hot iron bar along his bare arm, eating pieces of metal and drinking boiling oil. The climax of his act was to swallow a sword up to the hilt and then fire a cannon which was balanced on the sword's handle. The bullet which was to be fired from the miniature cannon was a tightly packed ball of paper.

 At that night's performance, Ali Ling Look slipped the sword down his throat and then raised the cannon with the hilt of the sword. Ali Ling Look's English wife, Caroline, then came forward with a red-hot iron ready to fire-off the cannon. George Harrison, the Chairman of the evening's entertainment, cried out to the audience: "Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated! Keep down, if you please!". Up in the sixpenny seats of the theatre's gallery, George Smythe leaned over the gallery rail to get a better view of the performance. Acting as her husband's assistant, Caroline Ling Look applied the red-hot iron to the cannon's touch-hole. There was a loud explosion as the cannon was fired and then shouts and screams came from the gallery. Immediately after the cannon was fired, Louis Lacroix, a thirty year old merchant's assistant who was occupying a box seat in the the theatre, heard someone in the gallery shout out "His head's blown off !" Rushing upstairs to the theatre gallery, Lacroix found the body of George Smythe. When Dr Edgar Barratt arrived at the theatre, he examined the fatal injury to George Smythe's head. The front of his skull had been shattered and the cavity was empty of brains. A policeman found a pellet of paper, covered with blood and brains, near the boy's body.

A charge of manslaughter was brought against Ali Ling Look and his wife Caroline Ling Look and Mrs Ellen Botham, as the Proprietress of the Oxford Theatre,  was accused of not taking proper precautions in relation to the dangerous stage act. The charge against Mrs Botham was dropped and Ali Ling Look and his wife were found "not guilty" of manslaughter at the Lewes Assizes held on 11th January 1882.

A thousand people attended the funeral of the unfortunate George Smythe, which was held at Brighton's Extra-Mural Cemetery. Mrs Ellen Botham arranged for a "large and beautiful wreath of flowers to be placed at the head of the coffin". Mrs Caroline Ling Look, according to Chinese custom and acting on behalf of her imprisoned husband, "sprinkled a small quantity of earth" on the coffin.  Caroline Ling Look was so deeply affected, that "she would have fallen into the grave had she not been supported away" ( Brighton Examiner, 10th January 1882).

Ling Look, the Lord of Fire, Cannon, and Sword

Ali Ling Look was a Chinese-born entertainer who had a variety act which involved sword swallowing and other amazing tricks. In a typical performance, Ling Look would swallow a dozen eggs whole, pass a long walking stick down his throat, rub a red-hot iron bar along his bare arm, and drink boiling oil. Ling Look's "cannon trick", which involved firing a small cannon, balanced on the hilt of a sword he had swallowed, resulted in the death of a fifteen year old spectator at Brighton's Oxford Theatre of Varieties. Ali Ling Look was married to an English woman named Caroline, who acted as his stage assistant and interpreter. The couple had at least one child but further details of the Ling Look family have proved difficult to trace.

[ABOVE] Young lads leaning forward in the gallery of a music hall theatre as illustrated in a Victorian stereoscopic slide. It was reported that the unfortunate George Smythe leant over the gallery rail  in order to view Ling Look's "cannon trick" and was shot in the head.

[ABOVE] An advertisement for Mrs Botham's Oxford Theatre of Varieties placed in the Brighton Examiner newspaper on 27th December 1881. The advertisement lists the acts that were due to perform that evening, including "The Great Chinese Salamander, LING LOOK, the Lord of Fire, Cannon, and Sword". George Smythe had paid 6d to take a seat in the \theatre's gallery.

[ABOVE] Ali Ling Look and his wife Caroline charged with George Smythe's manslaughter. (Brighton Examiner, 10th January 1882)

 
The children of Benjamin William Botham and Ellen Bedwell were as follows:

1. Ellen Louisa Botham was born in Halesworth, Suffolk, on 2nd April 1854. Ellen married in 1882.

2. Benjamin William Clayton Botham (known as Clayton Botham) was born in Halesworth, Suffolk on 2nd December 1855.  He ran the Oxford Theatre of Varieties with his brother John until about 1891, after which he became an architect and surveyor.  As an architect, Clayton designed the New Brighton Empire Theatre of Varieties, which opened under John Botham's management in August 1892. Benjamin William Clayton Botham married Amy Louisa Trussell (born 1861, Brighton) in Brighton in 1894. A son named Vernon Clayton Botham was born at the family home in Keymer, near Hassocks, in 1895. At the time of the 1901 Census, Clayton Botham was living in Keymer, West Sussex (a village directly north of Brighton) and gave his occupation as "Architect and Surveyor". In 1905, Clayton Botham was residing with his family at 3 Girton Villas, Osmond Road, Hove. The death of Benjamin William Clayton Botham occurred in the Steyning district of Sussex during the Summer of 1907. His obituary of 27th July 1907, describes him with the words "a most genial disposition ... highly esteemed".

3. Frances Sophia Rosetta Botham was born in Derby during the First Quarter of 1858. Frances married Joseph Henry Smith in 1883.

4. John Andrew Botham was born in Halesworth, Suffolk during the 4th Quarter of 1859. John A. Botham ran the Oxford Music Hall until about 1891.  In 1893, John Botham was the head of the Empire Theatre of Varieties and in 1894 he was the General Manager of the Eden Theatre of Varieties. At the time of the 1901 Census he was living in Keymer, West Sussex (a village directly north of Brighton) and gave his occupation as "Assurance Agent".

[ABOVE] The Eden Theatre, North Road, Brighton, pictured in the 1890s. B. W. Clayton Botham, the eldest son of Benjamin William Botham, was an architect and it was his firm that transformed The Grand  in North Road from a circus venue to a music hall theatre.
 

Carte-de-Visite Portraits by Benjamin William Botham

[ABOVE] A portrait of a man holding a top hat and leaning on a plinth, photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1865) Negative No.5689  B [ABOVE] A portrait of a seated woman wearing an evening dress, photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 43 Western Road, Brighton (1865) Negative No. 5804 F. [ABOVE] A vignette portrait of a young bride, photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 43 Western Road, Brighton (c1862) Negative No. 5804 F. [ABOVE] A portrait of a seated man leaning on an occasional table, photographed by Benjamin William Botham of 43 Western Road, Brighton (1865) Negative No. 6022 D
 

To view a further selection of photographic portraits taken at the Brighton studio of Benjamin William Botham between 1861 and 1868, click on the link below:

The Photographic Work of B. W. Botham

 

Acknowledgements & Sources

Thanks to Debbi Botham and Pete Botham of Braintree, Essex, who provided details of Benjamin William Botham's early life in Halesworth.  Pete Botham is descended from the brother of Benjamin William Botham's grandfather. Thanks to Brett Payne of Tauranga, New Zealand and John Bradley of Derbyshire for supplying information relating to B. W. Botham's early career in Derbyshire. Brett Payne is the creator of the excellent website Photographers and Photographic Studios in Derbyshire, England and John Bradley has made a study of photographers active in the Matlock Bath area of Derbyshire.

PRIMARY SOURCES - Newspapers and other Printed Primary Sources : Derby Mercury, (1857) ; The Matlock Bath Advertiser, (September 1857) ; Brighton Guardian (15th July 1868, 5th August 1868) ; The Brighton Examiner (27th December 1881, 3rd  January 1882, 10th January 1882) ; Street and Trade Directories : Robert Folthorp's General Directory for Brighton & Hove (1862 & 1864) ; Page's General Directory for Brighton & Hove (1864, 1865, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1871, 1872, 1873, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880) ; Simpson's Directory of Brighton (1865) ; J. G. Harrod & Co.'s Postal & Commercial Directory of Brighton (1867) ; Kelly's Post Office Directory for Sussex (1862, 1866, 1870, 1874, 1878, 1882, 1891, 1893,1894) ; Mathieson's Brighton & Suburban Directory (1869, 1870, 1871) ; Kelly's Directory of Kent, Surrey & Sussex (1891) ; Census Returns: 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 & 1911

OTHER SOURCES - Books : Brighton's Music Halls (Baron Birch, 1994) ;

WEBSITES : Births, Marriages & Deaths Records on FreeBMD ; 1881 Census & International Genealogical Index on LDS Family Search. Census returns were also explored on the UK Census Collection featured on the ancestry.co.uk website, 1901 Census Online and the 1911 Census website. Digitized books on the American Libraries' Internet Archive website, the Open Library website and Google Books.

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