yeovil trades & traders

William Sherrell

Photographer of Middle Street


Robert Edward William Sherrell, known simply as William, was born in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, in 1837 and baptised at Broxbourne (just a couple of miles from Hoddesdon) on 30 April 1837. He was the son of hair dresser James Sherrell of Hoddesdon (b1795) and Ruth née Lowley originally from Bristol (b1795). In the 1851 census James and Ruth and their children; Ruth (b1822), Francis (b1828), Jane (b1833) and 14 year old William, together with granddaughter Louisa, were living at High Street, Hoddesdon. The two daughters were milliners, Francis was a hair dresser like his father, while William was still a scholar.

In the winter of 1866 William married Emily Annie Baker at Aston, Birmingham, Warwickshire and in the 1871 census 33-year old William and 29-year old Emily were living at Brougham Street, Aston. William gave his occupation as an Artist but he is known to also have been a photographer with a studio at 107 Newhall Street, Birmingham. In 1876 William and Emily's only child, Florence Emily Ada, was born at Aston and baptised at All Saints church, Birmingham, on 23 April 1876. In the register of baptisms William, listed under his full name of Robert Edward William Sherrell, was listed as an artist of 75 Lodge Road, Birmingham. The family were at the same address in the 1881 census at which time William gave his occupation as 'Photographic Artist'. They remained at this address at least until 1883 when he was listed in the 1883 edition of Kelly's Directory of Birmingham.

It is not known when William moved his family to Yeovil, but certainly by 1889 when Kelly's Directory listed William living in Morley House, West Hendford. Also in 1889 it was reported that a Miss F Sherrell gave a recitation of "Dip your roll in your own pot" at a Saturday evening entertainment at the Victoria Hall. The family were certainly here by 1891. In the 1891 census William, by now aged 54, with 49-year old Emily and 15-year old Florence were living at 'Hill View' Sherborne Road. William gave his occupation as 'Artist & Photographer'.

When William Sherrell opened his studio at the Post Office at 55 Middle Street ‘(nearly opposite Mr E Helliar’s chemist)’ in 1894, he stated it was suitable for any weather, emphasising that the use of artificial lighting for studio portraits was almost unheard of at that time. He went on to say that "having had experience of over 20 years both as a photographer and an artist in oils, water-colour and crayon", he was able to produce portraits of superior art qualities unobtainable by "mere photographers who have received little or no art training". His speciality was "an artistic crayon portrait framed complete" for one guinea.

William was listed as an 'Artist & Photographer of 55 Middle Street' in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1895 but as just a Photographer of 165 Sherborne Road (presumably his home address, not his photographic studio) in Whitby's edition of 1898. He was listed as a Photographer of 55 Middle Street in Kelly's Directories of 1897, 1902 and 1906. His final trade listing in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser was in the edition of 1903 in which he was listed as a 'Photographer of 58 (sic) Middle Street'. The carte de visite by William shown below dates to the  middle or late 1890s as shown by the sitter's elaborate 'leg of mutton' sleeves, specific to the period. The address on the carte shows it to be the Post Office, Middle Street but this must have been a sub-Post Office because at this time the main Post Office was in Princes Street and the new Middle Street Post Office (now the WH Smith premises) didn't open until 1902.

The 1901 census listed William and his family living at 55 Middle Street, presumably above his Post Office photographic studio. By the time of the 1911 census William had retired and his daughter Florence had married Albert Forrest, a photographer of Pontypridd, Glamorgan. William and Emily were living with Albert, Florence and their young daughter Hilda at 13 The Parade, Pontypridd. (It is not likely that Albert Forrest was connected to William Sherrell on a business basis as he was most likely one of the sons of Thomas Forrest & Sons, photographers of 14 Market Street, Pontypridd).

William had retired, and Grace Cumming had taken over the studio, as early as 1907 as shown by a listing in Collins' Yeovil Directory. An advertisement in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1912 read - "The Studio, 55 Middle Street. Grace Cumming, Photographic Artist. Portraits in every size and process. Moderate charges. Children's portraits a Speciality".

Robert Edward William Sherrell died in the spring of 1912 at Pontypridd. He was aged 75. Emily died the following year, also at Pontypridd, aged 71.




From my collection

A plain-back carte de visite with square corners by William Sherrell dating to the late 1860s or very early 1870s. Taken at his 107 Newhall Street, Birmingham, photographic studio.


From my collection

Another carte de visite by William Sherrell from his days in Birmingham. By this time Sherrell had moved from Newhall Street and now had his studio at Temple Row. From the young lady's dress and the design of the back, this carte dates to the late 1870s or early 1880s.


A carte-de-visite of a young Private in the Somerset Light Infantry, probably photographed during the very early 1890s.


Both from my collection


Two cartes de visite by William Sherrell dating to the early 1890s (note the nascent 'leg of mutton' sleeves of the period). Note also that the address is given as 55 Middle Street.


From my collection

A slightly later carte de visite by William Sherrell dating to the late 1890s. The sitter wears very elaborate 'leg of mutton' sleeves, typical of the period. Note the address now reads 'Middle Street Post Office'.

Cartes de visite were introduced in Britain in 1859 and were a relatively cheap way for almost anyone to have their photograph taken. Cartes de visite (also known as cartes or CDVs), are small paper-on-card photographs. They typically measure 4" x 2½" (102mm x 62mm) and the photograph which was pasted on to the card was roughly cut to about 3½" x 2¼" (90mm x 57mm).


Can you believe that anyone would dress a child like this? We can't even tell if it's a boy or girl as they were often dressed similarly at the time (my granddad only wore dresses for the first three years of his life and he was born in 1900).


Sherrell didn't confine himself to studio portraits during his stay in Yeovil as this photograph of Yeovil Town Station shows.


Morley House, West Hendford, photographed in 2016. William Sherrell lived here in 1889.