In 1844 Mrs Ann Cooke made photographic history becoming the first woman professional photographer in England.  She was also the first and only woman to appear in the 1851 census as a “Photographic Artist”, turning tragedy into an opportunity to support her family as a pioneering photographer.

Ann Holmes was baptised on 22nd May 1796, daughter of Robert and Mary Holmes of Lincoln.[1] In 1816 Ann married Robert Cooke, Clerk to the Lincoln Poor Law Guardians and Superintendent Registrar, at St Mary le Wigford, Lincoln, a marriage destined to last twenty seven years.[2] According to the 1841 census of Steep Hill, Lincoln, Ann was five years Robert’s senior; this census also detailed their nine children- Robert (20), Mary (15), Edward (15), Ann (13), Sarah (11), Harriet (10), John (8), Jane (7) and Joseph (3). Ann’s role was clearly defined as full time wife and mother, but two years later her role would change to breadwinner following the untimely death of Robert at the age of forty six.[3]

Four months after Robert Cooke’s death, Daguerrotype patent holder Richard Beard visited Kingston upon Hull to seek a purchaser of the ten year exclusive license to provide photographic portraiture. The license was purchased by Ann’s brother Edward Holmes, and established the “Photographic Portrait Rooms” at 6 George Street, Hull.[4] [5] On 31st May 1844, The Hull Packet and East Riding Times hosted a front page advertisement announcing photographic portraits at 6 George Street, Hull, omitting reference to Mr E. Holmes.[6]

Ann purchased the Daguerrotype license for the familiar vicinity of Sleaford, Lincolnshire, sharing the new photographic enterprise with her second son Edward. Her introductory advertisement in the Lincolnshire Chronicle on 6th September 1844 informed the inhabitants of Sleaford that she had purchased a license for the county of Lincoln. In a confident, persuasive presentation, Ann lists many applications of the Daguerrotype process including providing copies of plans, paintings, sculptures, animals, landscapes and articles of virtu. Photographic portraiture was produced “with all the freshness, delicacy and warmth of the most exquisitely painted miniature”.[7]

Mrs R Cooke and Son of Wharf Yard, Carre Place announced their termination of business from 9th November 1844.[8]  The family then moved to Hull where Ann’s daughter Mary married on 3rd December 1844, documenting her address as 6 George Street, Hull.  The move was later confirmed when Ann became the new George Street photographic studio owner in 1845.[9]

Although there is no evidence of prior artistic interests, Ann successfully introduced “Life in Miniature”, reminding her readers that a photographic portrait was an everlasting memorial to its subject.  Perhaps Ann’s unexpected bereavement brought this element of portraiture into focus through personal experience, giving a unique insight into the value of photographic likeness.  Some of Ann’s advertisements took the form of an extended eloquent lament –

“When death hath severed us from all we love, what a consolation it is to the mourning and sorrowing heart to look, as in life, on the beloved features of all they loved on earth. To the faithful lover, what a treasure to possess a gem—a speaking likeness of her or him when parted by oceans thousands of miles; to look upon the portrait which looks life, yet never speaks or breathes.”[10]

Henry Mann was appointed to manage the George Street business allowing Ann to expand her services to the Victoria Rooms, Queen Street, Hull.[11]

Ann’s new venture introduced a variety of innovative photographic services including horses and other animals, views of Gentlemen’s seats, pictures copied and portraits of departed friends.  She compares a photograph to a mirror image, a “truth like picture, perfect in colour and form”.  Ann’s use of colour had been highlighted in a complimentary report the preceding year – “By the addition of colour, Mrs. Cooke’s portraits are made to assume the most life like appearance, so as to wear the semblance of the most perfect miniatures painted on ivory.”[12]

No prices were displayed in Ann’s Victoria Rooms advertisement, a measure of her growing confidence in the business world.[13] By 1851 she also employed Annie Dixon, portrait painter, probably to assist hand colouring the Daguerrotype images.[14]

Restriction of use and the high cost of patent licenses limited Ann’s potential competition but later Daguerreotype or collodion photographic portraits were open to all, subsequently reflected in the rapid growth of photographic studios in Hull.  By 1854 Mr Stuart Frazer joined Ann on George Street, Mr. S. G. Hudson on Paragon Street and Mr. Worden at Lowgate. [15] [16] [17]

Ann closed her photographic studio in 1857, converting her premises to alternative use as apartments.[18] 

Ann’s large family expanded further with the marriage of daughter Jane to John Watson in October 1858 and daughter Harriet to Alfred Parkes Jones in the final quarter of 1858.[19] In 1861 the census describes Ann as “Formerly Photographic Artist”, indicating her retirement from a ground breaking career.[20]

The Hull Packet, Friday 04 November 1870, reported the death in Manchester of Mrs Ann Cooke, late of George Street, Hull, aged 75.[21] [22] She was buried at the church of St Saviour, Manchester.[23]

Mrs Ann Cooke remains one of the most significant women pioneers of photography, transforming life-changing adversity into opportunity, encouraging future generations to follow her inspirational example.


My grateful thanks to Eric Butler for providing access to the Pauline Heathcote Archive, donated to Bromley House Library by Bernard Heathcote.  Details at 

Also Paul Gibson for his generous contribution, Michael Pritchard and David McGreevy for additional valuable assistance.


Further Reading:

Arthur T Gill. History of Photography “Further Discoveries of Beard Daguerrotypes”, Volume 3 Number 1, January 1979

Bernard V and Pauline F Heathcote, A Faithful Likeness, The First Photographic Portrait Studios in the British Isles 1841 to 1855, (Nottinghamshire: Private Publication, 2002)

Bernard V. and Pauline Heathcote, “The feminine influence: Aspects of the role of women in the evolution of photography in the British Isles” (History of Photography 12(3):259-273 · July 1988)


[1] Saint Peter Eastgate, Lincoln FHL Film Number 504565.

[2] 18th August 1816 FHL Film Number:1542057  Heathcote Archive also documents witnesses – Mary Holmes and John Wood p.11 Entry 33.

[3] Robert Cooke died on 17th April 1843, reported in Lincolnshire Chronicle, Friday 21st April 1843 – “On Monday the 17th inst, Mr. Robert Cooke, aged 46, the clerk to the Lincoln poor law union.”

[4] E Holmes identified as Edward Holmes in

[5] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette , Friday, November 3rd, 1843 displayed a front page advertisement – “Mr E. Holmes begs to announce that he has purchased a license for working this beautiful invention in Hull, and for that purpose has prepared suitable rooms in George Street, where he will be most happy to exhibit specimens of this chemical magic.”

[6] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette  – Also advertisement under Public Notices on October 25th 1844

[7] Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 06 September 1844, , p.3. col.6.

[8] Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 01 November 1844, p.3. col.4.

[9] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette  Friday, August 15, 1845 – “Mrs A. Cooke begs respectfully to inform the public of Hull and its Vicinity, that she intends making a considerable reduction in her charges for these beautiful and much admired portraits, and hopes that the undermentioned prices will afford all who wish an opportunity of procuring one of these invaluable likenesses.”

[10] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette – Friday 14 August 1846, p.1, col.3.

[11] ibid

[12] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette , Friday, August 14, 1846. P.5 col. 3.

[13] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette , Friday March 19, 1847. P.4 col. 3.

[14] 1851 Census – 6 George Street, entry no. 7 Annie Dixon, Lodger, aged 34, Portrait Painter born in Horncastle.

[15] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette – Friday 19 May 1854, p.1, col.3.

[16] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette – Friday 03 March 1854, p.1, col.5.

[17] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette – Friday 12 August 1853, p.1, col.3.

[18] Bernard V and Pauline F Heathcote, A Faithfull Likeness, The First Photographic Portrait Studios in the British Isles 1841 to 1855, (Nottinghamshire: Private Publication, 2002) p.69

[19] – Alfred Parkes Jones Marriage to Harriet Cooke in Hull, Yorkshire East Riding, Volume 9d, page 439.

[20] 1861 census – Ann Cooke, Mother in law, Widow, age 64 residing with Alfred P Jones, aged 29 at 7 Napier Terrace, West Sculcoates, Kingston upon Hull.

[21] Hull Packet and east Riding Advertiser, November 4th 1870, p.8 c.6.  Cooke – October 24th, aged 75 years, Mrs Ann Cooke, late of George Street, Hull.

[22] According to 1871 census, Ann’s son in law John Watson was a clergyman living in Chorlton, Manchester, with wife Jane, also with his brother in law Alfred P Jones and wife Harriet (formerly Cooke).

[23] Burial records of St Saviour, Manchester – Ann Cooke Buried October 31st 1870, aged 75.


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