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  J. T. Chapman

Josiah Thomas Chapman was born in the small enclave of Staverton in Wiltshire, England in 1843. Interestingly, his birthplace is located near the scenic Lacock homestead of calotype process pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. He was sent to Manchester at age 14 to apprentice under his uncle, chemist and druggist Josiah Slugg. Mr. Slugg was also an amateur astronomer, and schooled his young apprentice on optics as well as chemical processes. When delivering his uncle's telescope catalogs for illustrations, he developed important relationships with local photographers and wood engravers.

By 1865, Mr. Chapman had successfully completed his apprenticeship and went to work for chemist and photographic supplier Robert Hampson, and was joined shortly thereafter by fellow chemist and photography enthusiast J. B. Payne. When Mr. Hampson retired six years later, the business was promptly renamed Payne and Chapman. That same year, 1871, Mr. Chapman married Elizabeth Gardiner, with whom he would have six children. Within two years, his partnership with Mr. Payne ended, and the young entrepreneur decided to concentrate on his thriving photographic business. He began experimenting with Dr. R. C. Maddox's dry plate formula, adding alcohol to his gelatino-bromide emulsion. Mr. Chapman used the pseudonym Ostendo non Ostento to publish his formula in the October 1873 issue of the British Journal of Photography. His process studies led to the development of Lancashire and Manchester plates. While dry plates were certainly advantageous, many photographers experienced difficulties determining exposure time and proper lens aperture. Chemists Ferdinand Hunt and Vero Driffield determined that Mr. Chapman's Manchester plates produced the most impressive emulsion speed, and their published findings resulted in a dramatic surge in Manchester plate sales. He designed his first camera, the quarter-plate Manchester, in 1883. Three years later, he introduced the amazingly popular British camera series, a sturdy basic camera that did not compromise quality for affordability. By the early twentieth century, the British camera was available in seven sizes.

Image courtesy of Eric Evans

Mr. Chapman's burgeoning business quickly outgrew its modest Albert Square location, and he established photo development and printing shops nearby. Eventually, his entire establishment had to be moved to a larger facility on Brasenose Street. J. T. Chapman died in 1907 in Manchester, Lancashire, England at age 63. However, is business was alive and well, first operated by Mr. Chapman's assistant William Hughes before overtaken by his son James Gardiner Chapman in 1917. By the 1920s, the company, which continued to develop photographs, was known primarily as a leading chemical and equipment supplier. In 1965, the business - now operated by grandson Edward Chapman - was moved to 62 King Street, and three years later, a merger with Frederick Foxall Limited necessitated a name change to Foxall & Chapman. Finally, in 1981, it was sold to William Kenyon & Sons. When describing J. T. Chapman's photographic legacy, his son James Gardiner Chapman observed, "My father never grudged, or considered wasted, any time spent in helping a photographer - young or old; and it is to this more than anything else that I attribute his success and the success of the business."

1907 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. LIV (London: Henry Greenwood & Co.), p. 528.

2010 Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care (URL:

2006 J. T. Chapman Ltd by the Museum of Science & Industry (URL:

2014 Wood and Brass (URL:

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2014-10-29 21:15:07

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