Queen Victoria and Hull – Ann Cooke

Posted: 7th December 2022

Humber Museums Partnership - Queen Victoria and Hull – Ann Cooke

As part of the Ferens Art Gallery winter exhibition, Queen Victoria and Hull, Hull and District History Research Group have been researching Victorian Hull. This blog is the latest in a series revealing the hidden stories people from Victorian Hull.

Ann Cooke made photographic history by becoming the first female professional photographer in England. She was also the first and only woman to appear in the 1851 census as a ‘Photographic Artist’ joining 50 men in the same classification.

Ann was born in 1796 to Robert and May Holme of Lincoln and married Robert Cooke in 1816.  He was clerk to the Lincoln Poor Law Guardians and Superintendent Registrar at St Mary Le Wigford, Lincoln. They had 9 children. On the 1841 census her role was described as a full-time wife and mother, but after the death of her husband in 1843 Anne had to be the breadwinner and turned to photography in order to support the family.

Four months after the death of her husband, Richard Beard, the ‘Daguerreotype’ patent holder visited Hull to seek a purchaser of the ten year exclusive licence to provide photographic portraiture. Ann’s brother, Edward, purchased the licence and established the ‘Photographic Portrait Rooms’ at 6 George Street, Hull.

Ann also decided to buy the licence for the ‘Daguerreotype’ from Richard Beard but for one month only. The machine was taken to her studio in Sleaford. Ann employed Annie Dixon, a portrait painter to assist her with the hand colouring for the ‘Daguerreotype’ image.

The ‘Daguerreotype’ process is produced on chemically treated silver, the images were sharper and had accurate details. Portraits were produced with all the freshness, delivery and warmth of the most exquisitely painted miniatures. This was the first commercially successful photographic process in the history of photography.

On the 9th November 1844, Ann announced the closure of her studio in Sleaford and transferring the ‘Daguerrotype’, the family moved to Hull and her address was given as George Street, Hull.  In 1845, Ann confirmed she had become the new owner of the photographic studio having taken it over from her brother.

A few years later she opened another studio in Victoria Rooms, Queen Street, Hull. This new venture in Queen Street introduced a variety of innovative photographic services including photos of horses and other animals, picture copies and portraits of departed friends.

With the rapid growth of photographic studios in Hull by 1853, and patent of the ‘Daguerrotype’ having expired, Ann decided in 1857 to close her studios. She was 62 years old.

The premises were converted for use as apartments.

On 4th November 1870 The Hull Packet newspaper reported of her death in Manchester. She was buried at the Church of St Saviour, Manchester.

One of the Lord Mayors Centenary Plaques was placed on the premises in George Street.

You can visit the Queen Victoria and Hull exhibition from 20 October 2022 until 19 February 2023.

Image credit: tandf online