John Thorp  - St Leonards Photographer

John Thorp

(born 1838, Hull - died 1902, Croydon)

Click here to return to Home Page

John Thorp  (1838 - 1902)

Photographer in St Leonards-on-Sea from 1862 to 1869


John Thorp was born on 23rd May, 1838 in Hull, Yorkshire (modern day Humberside), the son John Thorp senior ( born c1796, Kirton Lindsey, Lincolnshire ) and Ann York ( born c1799, Great Ayton, Yorkshire ). John Thorp senior married Ann York on 16th September 1834. In White's 1840 Directory of Kingston upon Hull, John Thorp senior is listed as a Lodging House Keeper of 35, George Street, Hull. By 1851, John Thorp senior and his family had moved down to St. Leonards-on-Sea, a fashionable seaside resort on the Sussex coast, where he set up a lodging house at 20 Grand Parade. The 1851 Census records John Thorp senior, Lodging House Keeper, aged 54, residing at 20 Grand Parade, St.Leonards, with his wife Anne and their two sons - John Thorp junior, aged 12 and his eleven year old brother, Henry.

Early Career and Interest in Photography

As a young man John Thorp worked as a stationer and assistant librarian, possibly at the nearby Royal Victoria Library & Reading Rooms on Grand Parade. In the 1861 Census, John Thorp junior gives his occupation as "Librarian & Lodging House Keeper", but there is evidence that he was already interested in photography. In the Summer of 1860, John Thorp was acting as the Hastings & St. Leonards agent for Dr. Hill Norris's Patent Dry Collodion Photographic Plates. ( Dr. Richard Hill Norris of Birmingham had patented his gelatine-coated dry collodion plates in 1856 and his patent dry plates were widely used in outdoor photography [ see Dry Collodion Plates ]


[ABOVE] An advertisement for Dry Collodion Photographic Plates placed in a local newspaper  by John Thorp in July 1860. ( Hastings & St Leonards News, 13th July 1860 ).



[ABOVE] A portrait of John Thorp (c1900). John Thorp was active as a photographer in Hastings from about 1862 to around 1869. John Thorp was a young man of twenty-four when he established a photographic studio at 20 Grand Parade, St Leonards-on-Sea. This  portrait was made towards the end of John Thorp's life when he was in his early sixties. John Thorp operated a photographic portrait studio at 20 Grand Parade until around 1870, when he sold his studio to Henry Knight and moved to Croydon, Surrey. Thorp worked as a photographer in Croydon from 1870 to 1879. John Thorp abandoned professional photography and embarked on a new career as an accountant. Although he settled in Croydon, John Thorp visited St. Leonards regularly.

[PHOTO : Courtesy of Linda Evans of Portsmouth]



The Studio at 20 Grand Parade, St. Leonards

[ABOVE] A photograph of  20 Grand Parade, St Leonards in the early 1900s. A former lodging house, this was the site of John Thorp's photographic studio between 1862 and 1869. These premises were used as a photographic studio by various photographers over a period of over 50 years. When this photograph was taken around 1910, the studio was occupied by the photographer  Hermann Warschawski. [RIGHT] A photograph of  20 -21 Grand Parade, St Leonards in 2005. When this modern photograph was taken the building was being used as an Indian restaurant.

[PHOTO : Courtesy of Linda Evans of Portsmouth]

Marriage and Family

On 18th November 1860, John Thorp married Esther Ann Verral Gillett (1833-1905), the daughter of Charles and Mary Ann Gillett of Alciston, Sussex. At the time of the 1861 Census, John Thorp was living with his new wife at 30 London Road, St Leonards. John Thorp is described as a "Librarian & Lodging House Keeper", aged 23. Esther, his wife, was pregnant with their first child and rather touchingly they added the details of their expected child on the census return. The census  enumerator has crossed out the name of the son "John H. Thorp" and alongside has written "Not Born" and under the heading "Rank, Profession, or Occupation", he has written, against the name of the obviously longed for son, the words "Not yet arrived".

When John and Esther Thorp's first child did arrive two weeks later on 21st April 1861, it was a girl. They named their daughter Annie Elizabeth Thorp. On the birth certificate, John Thorp gave his occupation as "Librarian's Assistant". Four more children were born during the family's stay in Hastings & St. Leonards - Alice Louise on 3rd January 1863, Esther Madeline on 29th March 1865, Harriet Ada on 13th December 1866 and finally, on 11th December 1868, the desired son John Henry Thorp.

John Thorp - Photographic Artist

On the birth certificates for his children born between January 1863 and December 1868, John Thorp gives his profession as either Photographic Artist, Photographist, or Photographer. In fact, John Thorp opened a photographic studio at his father's lodging house at 20 Grand Parade, St Leonards in the Summer of 1862 and continued there as a photographic artist until 1869.

[ABOVE] An advertisement for John Thorp's Photographic Studio at 20 Grand Parade, St Leonards-on-Sea , which first appeared in The Hastings & St Leonards News in September 1862.



[ABOVE] An advertisement for John Thorp's Photographic Studio at 20 Grand Parade, St Leonards-on-Sea , which appeared in Simpson & Co.'s Hastings & St. Leonards Court Guide of 1865. Thorp was one of the earliest photographers in Sussex to offer the Diamond Cameo Portrait Format.

Trade Plates of John Thorp, Photographic Artist


[ABOVE] Trade Plate c 1862

[ABOVE] Trade Plate c 1869

[ABOVE] Trade Plate c 1865

[ABOVE] Trade Plate c 1868


[ABOVE ] A Portrait of a Young Girl , taken at John Thorp's Photographic Studio,  20 Grand Parade, St Leonards-on-Sea around 1865. The trade plate design featuring the banner wrapped around the wooden staff appeared on the reverse of this photographic portrait by John Thorp.



Examples of the Photographic Work of John Thorp of St. Leonards  -  1862-1869

A Portrait of a Seated Young Woman holding a Book. Carte-de-visite portrait by John Thorp. (c1867)

A Portrait of a Young Woman standing by a chair. Carte-de-visite portrait by John Thorp. (c1865)

Portrait of a Seated Middle-aged Man. Carte-de-visite portrait by John Thorp of St Leonards. (c1867)

John Thorp in Croydon

Around 1870, John Thorp sold his photographic studio at 20 Grand Parade, St Leonards to Henry Knight (born 1848 London), a photographic artist from the Isle of Wight who had recently married and was hoping to establish a photography business in St Leonards. Henry Knight was to operate the studio in Grand Parade for almost 20 years.

John Thorp moved to Croydon where he continued to work as a photographic artist until 1879. Three more Thorp children were born in Surrey - Richard William in 1870, Margaret Henrietta in 1872 and Kate Isabel Amelia in 1876. By the time the 1881 Census was taken, John Thorp was working as an accountant. In the 1881 Census, John Thorp, "Accountant", aged 42, is recorded as living at 6 Wilton Terrace, Livingston Road, Croydon with his wife Esther and three of their children. In the 1901 Census, John Thorp is listed as a Financial Agent ( on other documents he is entered as a "Money Lender" ). John Thorp died in Croydon on 4th March 1902, aged 63.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS : Portrait of John Thorp and photograph of the studio at 20 Grand Parade, St. Leonards, courtesy of Linda Evans, a great, great grand-daughter of John Thorp. Linda has also provided information on John Thorp's Family History .Thank you Linda.

Click here to return to Home Page

Click here to go to A History of Professional Photography in Hastings (1849-1910)

  Website Link - The Evans Family - Linda Evans & Kathleen Evans have their own website featuring pages on The Thorp Family, which includes photographs of John Thorp's wife Esther, and his daughter Harriett Ada Thorp (1866-1956).

Click on this link to enter the website - The Evans Family