Journal 1846 16 05

Newcastle Journal May 16th 1846


Jane Nina Wigley made photographic history in 1847 becoming the first female commercial photographer in London.  But Jane’s successful career as a female photographic trailblazer tested her professional resilience, earning her the accolade “maiden hero”.[1]

St Clement Dane Church, Westminster baptism records document the birth of Jane Wigley, daughter of Charles and Judith Wigley née Frost on November 4th 1806 and baptism in March 1807.  She was the youngest of three daughters, sister Emma born in 1800 and Caroline in 1803.[2]  Jane’s parents were married in 1797 and also in 1813 perhaps indicating problem with the validity of the first marriage ceremony.  Charles was a musician, becoming a musical instrument manufacturer on Regent Street, London by 1825.[3]

Charles Wigley’s musical interests may have contributed to the appearance at the King’s Theatre in 1830 and 1834 of “Miss Nina Wigley”.  Jane assumes the middle name Nina in the 1851 census also the 1854 and 1855 London Post Office Directories identify her as Miss Jane Nina Wigley, Daguerrotypist at 108 Fleet Street. 

Jane displayed artistic talent as a landscape painter, contributing to the British Institution Exhibition in 1845 [4] in the company of fellow artists Landseer, Frith, and Augustus Egg amongst others.[5] Several women artists saw the new photographic application of “painting with light” as a natural addition to their creative repertoire.  But Jane was the only woman artist of the 1840s to adopt photography as a career.  In the same year Jane moved to Newcastle upon Tyne becoming the first female Daguerreotype portrait photographer in the North East of England.[6]

Coal merchant and enterprising entrepreneur Richard Beard owned the patent rights for Daguerreotype photography throughout England, advertising in the newspapers of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1843.  For an average investment of £1,000 Beard supplied a ten year licence giving exclusive rights to the purchaser within a prescribed location boundary.  Married women were prohibited from participation in legal contracts but, as a single woman, Jane was liberated from these restrictions.  Jane purchased the Newcastle and Gateshead licence, travelling north to start her foray into commercial photography and introducing a succession of exuberant advertisements into the local press. 

On 22nd September 1845, Miss Wigley’s portrait studio opened its doors in Newcastle Upon Tyne’s  Royal Arcade.  She embraced all aspects of the new art, unafraid of technical challenges including the production of stereoscopic Daguerrotypes.[7]  For the next two years the Newcastle Journal would host regular advertisements exhibiting Jane’s creative use of persuasive language.


1845 13 09 45 Wigley

Newcastle Journal September 20th 1845


Jane’s Daguerrotype monopoly extended to Gateshead but her customers were potentially drawn from further afield.  Mr Lightly held the Daguerrotype licence for the county of Durham, establishing his studio in Sunderland, only fifteen miles from Jane’s Royal Arcade portrait rooms.  The Gateshead Observer hosted adjoining advertisements for both photographers, an early indication of Jane’s determination to compete in the new profession of photographic portraiture.

Wigley / Lightly

The Gateshead Observer  Saturday December 20th 1845

Image courtesy of Gateshead Central Library

In June 1846 she introduced a pioneering method to overcome the Daguerrotype mirror image.[8]  Use of a prism to correct the reversed image had been a popular innovation introduced by Richard Beard in 1843 and Antoine Claudet in April 1846, then Jane Wigley soon after.[9]

Screenshot 2018-05-19 17.27.39

Newcastle Journal 04 July 1846


In 1847 Jane decided to return to London, leaving her Newcastle studio on 5th June.[10]  John Werge’s Evolution of Photography (1890) recalls her two year residence:  “ Some time after that, a Miss Wigley, from London, came to the town to practise Daguerreotyping, but she did not remain long, and could not, I think, have made a profitable visit. If so, it could scarcely be wondered at, for the sun-pictures of that period were such thin, shimmering reflections, and distortions of the human face divine, that very few people were impressed either by the process or the newest wonder of the world….” [11]

Four weeks later Jane’s new studio was established at 10 Anderson Street, King’s Road, Sloane Street.  She launched her new London enterprise in typical ebullient style, capitalising on her unique skills as an artist turned photographer.

The Times, 2nd July 1847 p.2 –

“Miss WIGLEY’S COLOURED DAGUERROTYPE PORTRAITS, under distinguished patronage.  These elaborate miniatures are taken by Miss Wigley, whose long continental residence as an artist enables her to give that ease and elegance to the sitting that can only be achieved by an artist, which, combined with superiority of colouring, procures for her general approbation and unrivalled success.”

On 11th May 1848 Jane took over the establishment of photographer Theodore Smith Redman at 108 Fleet Street.[12] Her studio once again provided coloured Daguerreotype portraits followed by a succession of photographic innovations.  Jane claimed to be the inventor of the enamelled Daguerrotype followed by her adoption of Frederick Scott Archer’s unpatented collodion process in March 1852. 

The 1851 census documents Jane Nina Wigley as an “Artist” despite her well established status in the professional photographic community.  Ann Cooke of Kingston upon Hull became the first and only female “Photographic Artist” recorded in the 1851 census, the year that the term “photographer” was introduced.


108 Fleet Street Wigley Tallis

Miss Jane Nina Wigley’s Photographic Studio 1848-1855, 108 Fleet Street[13]

John Tallis, London Street Views 1838-40 published by The Bodley Head


Miss Wigley was clearly a determined photographer, perhaps unaware of acerbic comments communicated from chemist Thomas Malone to William Henry Fox Talbot referring to the “badness of her pictures”.  Malone reported criticism targeted at Jane from Richard Beard and Antione Claudet, but their critique may have stemmed from irritation at her effusive announcements in The Times rather than her professional capabilities.[14] Jane found herself sandwiched between Beard and Claudet in The Times classified advertisements of 16th May 1850.  Beard’s unembellished promotional information and Claudet’s list of prestigious clientele, contrasted with Jane’s characteristic unrestrained flamboyant confidence;

  “Coloured Daguerrotype Portraits (the largest and best in England), at unprecedentedly low prices, taken daily by Miss Wigley, whose peculiar style of colouring these brilliant portraits renders them perfect gems.  A visit to her establishment will at once prove their great superiority to any hitherto seen.”

Jane’s expansive repertoire now included Daguerrotype, stereoscopic and collodion coloured portraits, describing her stereoscopic images as photographic sculpture, “alto relievo”.  She also claimed to be the first collodion photographer to conduct an “instantaneous sitting”.  The use of collodion prompted an injunction by William Henry Fox Talbot, claiming that the unlicensed professional use of collodion constituted an infringement of his calotype patent. [15]

Jane successfully fought this unwelcome legal action, earning Talbot’s admiration wishing to “treat her with indulgence”.[16]  The 1854 Art Journal celebrated Jane’s resolve –

“Miss Wigley, of Fleet Street, first commenced taking collodion portraits for sale.  Down came Mr. Talbot with his threat of an injunction. Miss Wigley, with all a woman’s obstinacy, boldly stated her determination to brave alike Mr. Talbot and the Vice-Chancellor. This maiden hero was too much for the hero of Lacock Abbey, and the bachelor succumbed.” [17]

By 1854 photographic services appearing in The Times classified advertisements had increased fourfold with Jane remaining the sole female representative.  By 1855 a further six women had opened photographic portrait studios in London, many taking advantage of the expiration of Beard’s Daguerrotype patent.[18]

Miss Jane Nina Wigley appeared as a “Daguerrotypist” for the final time in the 1855 London Post Office Directory[19].  There is no mention from 1856 onwards, returning to her former occupation as an “Artist, Drawing and Painting” in the 1861 census, sharing her home with sisters Emma and Caroline.  

The 1881 census documents Jane Wigley, unmarried, living with her sister Caroline in the parish of St Pancras; both listed as retired governesses.  Caroline died in 1882 followed by Jane in 1883.  Jane was buried on 25th October 1883 joining her father Charles and sisters Emma and Caroline at St Pancras cemetery, Camden.

Jane Nina Wigley became a professional photographer 173 years ago but her story provides refreshing inspiration to all women today. Her creative talent and strength of character excelled when immersed in the formative years of a predominantly male profession, leading the way for other women to realise their creative potential.

In an era of endemic subjugation of women, Jane’s unrelenting optimism and resilience helped her achieve the impossible, equality.


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

Also thanks to Paul Cordes for his new insights into Jane’s time in North East England and invaluable local assistance.

Michael Pritchard and Roddy Simpson for valuable additional help.

Newcastle Journal images reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (



Further Reading:

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)

Michael Pritchard, A Directory of London Photographers 1841 – 1908, (Watford: PhotoResearch, 1986)

John Werge, The Evolution of Photography, With a Chronological Record of Discoveries, Inventions, etc., Contributions to Photographic Literature, and Personal Reminiscences Extending over Forty Years, (London: Piper and Carter, 1890)


[1] Art Journal 1854 p.238 accessed at on 15/05/2018

[2] The census of 1841 shows Charles and Judith with their three daughters Emma, 40, Caroline, 30 and Jane 30, though these ages do not correspond with baptism records for Jane or her sisters.  Baptisms register St George, Hanover Square, Westminster, Middlesex 8th October 1805 : Emma born October 18th 1800 and Caroline born July 22nd 1803 to Charles and Judith Wigley

[3] 1815 and 1825 London Trade Directory accessed 11/05/2018

[4] Christopher Wood, The Dictionary of Victorian Painters (Dictionary of British Art), Woodbridge: ACC Art Books, 1978

[5] Catalogue of the Works of British Artists in the Gallery of The British Institution, 1845

[6] Newcastle Journal 1845 advertisement,13th September. Page 1.

[7] 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 Photography12(3):259-273 · July 1988) p. 264

[8] Newcastle Journal 1846 advertisement, 13th June. Page 2.

[9] 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 Photography12(3):259-273 · July 1988) p. 264

[10] Newcastle Journal 1847 advertisement, 8th May, p.1

[11] John Werge, The Evolution of Photography, With a Chronological Record of Discoveries, Inventions, etc., Contributions to Photographic Literature, and Personal Reminiscences Extending over Forty Years, London: Piper and Carter, 1890, p.30

[12] Roger Taylor & Larry J Schaff, Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives 1840-1860, London: Yale University Press, p.362

[13] Image from 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 Photography12(3):259-273 · July 1988) p. 259

[14] Correspondence from Thomas Malone to William Henry Fox Talbot, 15th February 1850 – “Mr Beard regrets giving a license to a Miss Wigley. The badness of her pictures & the absurdity of her advertisements tends to bring the Daguerreotype into disrepute Such is the opinion of Mr Claudet Kilburn & Beard himself.” accessed 15/05/2018

[15] The Times, Advertisement 11th March 1852, p.3

[16] Price and Bolton account quoted in HJP Arnold William Henry Fox Talbot Pioneer Of Photography And Man Of Science, Hutchinson Benham (1977) p.198  – footnote * “Several brief references to Miss Wigley appeared in a statement of account from Talbot’s lawyers for the period 1851-2. Including a comment that he wished to treat her “with indulgence” and intended to postpone action “for the present”.

[17] Art Journal 1854 p.238 accessed at on 15/05/2018

[18] 1841-1855 London photographic studios : Miss Jane N Wigley (1847-1855), Miss Matilda Hamilton (1851-1854), Miss Miranda Canon (1853-1854), Miss Rosa A. Bourdon (1854-1856), Mrs Eliza Burrows (1854-1860), Miss Mina Peyton (1854-1855), Mrs Mercy Smith (1855)  Quoted in Bernard V and Pauline F Heathcote, A Faithful Likeness

[19] Bernard V and Pauline F Heathcote, A Faithful Likeness – Appendix 3 accessed 01/06/2018 at Pauline Heathcote Archive, Bromley House Library, Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HL