Nicolaas Henneman (1813-1898), Dutch-born and Parisian-trained, had a complicated but mutually beneficial relationship with Henry Talbot. As his valet during the early years of photography, Henneman was both a willing subject for his master’s camera and an active participant in research and production. On 21 April 1842, as he had done so often before, he offered up his face in service of the art, becoming the subject of at least two experimental negatives made by Talbot. In 1843, Henneman took the highly unusual step of voluntarily severing his service with Talbot in order to set up his own calotype studio and printing establishment in the market town of Reading. From 1848-1851, he operated a Regent Street studio on London with Thomas Augustine Malone, carrying on after that on his own through the 1850s. The complexities and twists in Henneman’s photographic practise mirrored the growing pains of the new art and undoubtedly he will figure into future blogs. Today, however, I wanted to concentrate on a little-known and daring expansion venture of his.
The Photographic Society of London (better known later as The Royal Photographic Society) had just formed when Henneman began advertising in their journal. When he was in Reading, Henneman had to suffer with a terribly polluted water supply, but at least there was a relatively small population and little industrial activity that would interfere with his most essential commodity – sunshine.
In Reading, the reliability of the supply of sunlight was more subject to the vagaries of English weather than to man-made interfence. Each print had to be made one at a time under a negative in the sunlight. Exposure times were typically on the order of ten minutes in good weather, perhaps half an hour when the skies were gray. Henneman’s print production was limited both by the number of print frames that he could load at one time and the amount of actinic (chemically active) light that was available. Reading never quite became the success that Henneman hoped it would be, but if he had had reason to expand, real estate was relatively affordable and available.
All of that changed when Henneman moved to London. Today’s toxins are less visible, if not more deadly, but in the 1850s the notorious London smog was in full force, frequently blocking the sun. Some of this smog came from industrial activity around the city, but much of it was the consequence of the coal fires used to heat the residences. In these circumstances, getting enough sunlight to print his photographs through the haze was a real problem for Henneman and the extended exposure times limited his production. With the booming economy of his prime location on Regent Street, expansion was not economically possible and there was precious little roof space on which to array his print frames.
Kensal Green, formerly farms, had just started to expand during this period, spurred on by the establishment in 1832 of the cemetery there. Davies’s 1841 map on the left contrasts vividly with the Ordnance Survey map of 1865 on the right. Aside from prize pigs and roses, the area was known for its laundry operations. The absence of soot was critical to drying clothes on the line and ample sunlight was needed for bleaching. In this respect, Henneman’s choice of the area was similar to Robert Adamson’s decision to locate his studio on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, whose slopes were covered by fabrics bleaching in the sun.
Amazingly, Godwin’s April 1852 architectural drawing has survived. I assume that the part rendered in black was the existing house and that the red was the proposed five or six room addition. The front steps lead down to what is presumably the road.
Many years ago the late Arthur Gill and I tried to figure out just where Henneman’s operation was set up. Even then it was impossible to square the 1850s description with the 1970s realities and today the entire area has changed even more. There are a few buildings sited on the diagonal that perhaps echo the angle of the building in Godwin’s drawing but nothing that is conclusive. By the time of the 1865 Ordnance Survey map a lot of the farm area had been converted into new streets and it is virtually impossible to link the 1851 census returns to the 1861 ones.
On 3 May 1852 Henneman reported to Talbot (you might find it easier to read his phonetic spelling out loud): “I am confident you will be pleased to see the arrangement here even without the new shops, when they are ready I would under take to execute such an order like the Exhibition (18000) in one month I will prove thiss to your satisfaction when you come here.” He then revealed that the building was called “Monument House Kensall Green” and suggested that “I Should like to give thiss house a other name wath do you think of Calling it Talbotype, photographic Printing Establisment, as soon as the new rooms are ready (whom by the by, they have not yet began).” In years of searching I have only found one reference to Monument House, and that is in the 1851 census, immediately before Talbot purchased the property. Monument House was at 29 Harrow road and occupied by the family of Lawrence T. Anderson, a police constable. It all likelihood Henneman did re-name the property. No Monument House has been traced in the 1861 census and by then all the street names and numbering had been changed and virtually all the 1851 neighbors had moved away. At least this reference confirms that the premises were on the Harrow Road. Most likely Monument House was on the North side, which would have given Henneman’s garden ready access to the sun, but it might have been one of the few buildings next to the cemetery gate, adjacent to ‘Elizabeth’ on the above map.
The reference to making 18,000 prints in one month for the Exhibition was to the failed project for Henneman to produce the prints for the photographically illustrated Reports of the Juries for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (another future blog). It was a level of production he could only have dreamed of at Reading or on Regent Street. On 3 May 1853 Henneman wrote a curious note to Talbot: “I hope you will excuse the liberty I take on this occasion to congratulate you on your late and most important discovery, and see now plain enough why you advised me to wait another year before I erected the large manufactory at Kensall Green for possitive printing, of course what I have erected there already, will answer very well for all ordinaire purposes now, and altho your discovery will injure me to a great extent, still that is very insignificant with its universell worth.” As he had for photogenic drawing before, Talbot had well-justified high hopes for his new invention of photographic engraving, the forerunner of photogravure, which separated the act of Nature drawing the image from the rendition in unstable silver prints. Talbot earnestly believed that the ink of the new process would commercially displace the silver of photographic printing and had shared this with Henneman. Thus, we don’t know how much of Godwin’s plan was actually built, if any.
Although he tried to keep up with the rapidly evolving field of photography, adopting albumen printing and wet collodion negatives and providing a range of services, like his former master, Henneman did not have much of a head for business. By 1857 his Regent Street operation was failing and he was considering moving to Lisbon. The Talbotype Establishment at Kensal Green was the first victim of this contraction. On 26 April 1856, Talbot had written to Pete Le Neve Foster: “I observe that you are Trustee of a newly formed photographic Company … as I presume the Photogrc Assocn contemplates extensive operations and are not yet in possession of all the premises, workshops, &c &c which they require – I beg to inform them that I wish to dispose of a freehold house at Kensal Green 3 miles from Regent Street which is fitted up specially for photography and has been so used about 5 years – I will guarantee the title to the property. There is space for any further requisite buildings – I will communicate any further particulars you may require, if I understand that the offer is likely to suit the association. At the same time I will mention that one of the first photographers in Regent St informs me that he wishes to dispose of the lease goodwill and whole photographic stock in trade of his establishment, as he contemplates leaving England and fixing himself as a photographer in Lisbon.” That photographer, of course, was Nicolaas Henneman. Le Neve Foster was intrigued by the idea. The Photographic Association was a curious hybrid. It was a limited stock company designed to support amateur photography by making a profit from print productions. Most of its members were prominent in the Photographic Society of London, which objected strenuously to what they perceived as a threat, and as a result most were forced out of their offices. The Photographic Association never got off the ground and who eventually purchased the Kensal Green property is not known.
On 17 October 1856, Talbot’s solicitor John Henry Bolton reported that the property had been sold and that Henneman was doing his best to extricate himself from his debts. Bolton’s business records are not known to have survived and the only hints that we have about the transaction are in his invoices to Talbot for services rendered. My thanks to the archivists at All Souls for diligently searching their records, but the college disposed of most of their holdings in Kensal Green in the 1960s amid some controversy and the 19th c records do not seem to be with us any longer.
The Kensal Green Cemetery is well worth visiting, for many of Talbot’s colleagues are resting there, including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Robert Brown, Charles Babbage and Frederick Scott Archer. Hidden somewhere in the adjacent St Mary’s Catholic cemetery is Talbot’s one-time collaborator John Frederick Goddard. Kensal Green poses many challenges to the researcher, not only because of its rapid and extensive re-development, but also because it falls awkwardly into several administrative districts. Crowdsourcing time: if you get out that way, see if you can figure out where Henneman set up his manufactory. Perhaps someone with local knowledge of the area will have some insight. Perhaps the marriage of Mr Google and Serendipity will lead you to discovering something about this. I would very much like for someone to solve this mystery.
Larry J Schaaf
Questions or Comments? Please feel encouraged to contact Prof Schaaf directly at firstname.lastname@example.org • It is almost impossible today to imagine this area as it was in Henneman’s time. Although Kensal Green figures in only periodically, an excellent overview of spreading development can be found in Florence M. Gladstone’s Notting Hill in Bygone Days, 1924; new edition with commentary by Ashley Barker (London: Anne Bingley, 1969). • WHFT, Nicolaas Henneman, calotype negatives with virtual prints, 21 April 1842, National Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-1467, 1937-3769; Schaaf 2661, Schaaf 2660. • Nicolaas Henneman, Boy with Printing Frames at the Reading Talbotype Establishment, salt print from a calotype negative, ca. 1844, National Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-3127, Schaaf 3242. • WHFT to Constance Talbot, 6 December 1851, Talbot Correspondence Document no. 6532. • Nicolaas Henneman to WHFT, 5 January 1852, Doc. no. 6548. • Henneman had counted on making the prints for the photographically illustrated Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851: Reports by the Juries. This publication caused WHFT considerable consternation angst, for he felt strongly that the Commissioners had stealthily and unfairly taken the job away from Henneman. See Nancy B Keeler, “Illustrating the ‘Reports by the Juries’ of the Great Exhibition of 1851; Talbot, Henneman, and Their Failed Commission,” History of Photography, v. 6 no. 3, July 1982, pp. 257-272. • George Godwin, jnr. to WHFT, 20 January 1852, Doc. no. 6555. • George Godwin, jnr., Plan for New Buildings Kensal Green, ink and watercolour on paper, April 1852; Fox Talbot Collection, the British Library, London. • Nicolaas Henneman to WHFT, 3 May 1852, Doc. no. 6604. • Henneman to WHFT, 3 May 1853, Doc. no. 6766. • A brief summary of WHFT’s efforts with photographic engraving can be found in my ‘The Caxton of Photography’: Talbot’s Etchings of Light,” in Mirjam Brusius et. al., William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). • WHFT to Pete Le Neve Foster, 26 April 1856, Doc. no. 7254. • John Henry Bolton to WHFT, 17 October 1856, Doc. no. 7304. • Bolton, invoice, October 1856, Fox Talbot Collection, the British Library, London.