Kent Archaeological Review extract

Willam Boyer -- 19th Century Photographer.
by Joan B Roome.

William Boyer was a professional photographer who came to Sandwich from Ramsgate to open what was probably the town's first studio in the Chain. With professional skill and real artistic feeling, he carried on his business here during the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign between the years of 1868 and 1896. He died in 1897, and his grave, containing the remains of his wife and infant son can be identified in St Clement's churchyard today.

His studio (now an antique shop) passed into other hands and continued until quite recently, but William Henry Boyer and his sitters faded into oblivion until Jim Sidery, son of the last photographer to practise in the Chain, discovered some 3,000 of Boyer's photographic plates when clearing out the premises after his father's death. Some were damaged, but sufficient remained intact for the Science Museum in London to be approached and their interest was at once aroused because of the rarity value of such an early photographic find. This was of importance both as an illustration of the late nineteenth century techniques in photography, as well as constituting a piece of social history. The upshot was posthumous fame for Boyer and his clients in an imaginative exhibition mounted at the Science Museum between November 1975 and April 1976.

A modified version of the exhibition has been circulated around various local centres, and thanks to the co-operation of the Science Museum, the help of Mr J Sidery, and the energy of the Sandwich Local History Society, the exhibition made its provincial debut in Sandwich, coinciding with the Charter Festival. Mr Sidery opened the exhibition in St Peter's Church (recently restored by the Redundant Churches Fund) on Saturday, June 26th and it remained open until Saturday July 10th.

So Boyer and his photographic studies had returned home! The local interest in them was immediate. The church was never empty as people and school parties came to view. The most exciting aspect of the exhibition was the identifying of streets and houses; standing next to a lady who identified her older sister in a pram (she still had the original photograph at home) and a younger woman recognising her great aunt picking hops in a hopfield at Ash. Viewing the whole exhibition one was aware that the splendidly restored photographs and slides presented an unique commentary on a small town in late Victorian times with all sections of society represented from the humblest to the most well-to-do.

There were men at work and children at play; there were christenings, weddings and funerals; there were formal family groups and the individual portrait — and the back cloth, when outside Boyer's studio, was Sandwich and district itself. The exhibition made an important addition to our knowledge of local history, besides assuring for William Henry Boyer, after a century's forgetfulness, the recognition that is due to both a professional and an artist — and who practised in our town amongst our own forbears.

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