|Born: Jane Martha Beach *** Common error *** |
Born: Jane Martha Hicks Beach
Other: Jane St. John
|Dates: ||1801 - 1882, 18 November|
|Born: ||Great Britain, Gloucestershire, Coln St. Aldwyn, Williamstrip Park|
|Died: ||Great Britain, Hampshire, Oakley|
Early English Photographer.
Jane Martha St. John, née Hicks Beach, 1801-1882
Jane was born Jane Martha Hicks Beach, and not as is often reported Jane Martha Beach, a name that has led to much confusion. Jane was in fact the fourth daughter of Michael Hicks Beach 1760–1830 and Henrietta Maria Hicks Beach 1760–1837 and she was born at Williamstrip Park, Coln St. Aldwyn, Gloucestershire, England, on the 24th July 1801. This was a particularly wealthy family, primarily because her mother brought to the marriage an inheritance of substantial estates in Wiltshire, as well as Williamstrip Park in Gloucestershire that had become the Hicks Beach family home. In accepting the inheritance from his father-in-law, William Beach of Keevil Manor, Michael Hicks would also agree to take the name Beach as his own, so in 1790, eleven years before Jane was born, the name Hicks Beach came into being by Royal License.
Jane’s life could well have been that of the spoilt younger child in a family of so many older brothers and sisters, but by the time she was nine her three sisters and two of her brothers had died, and with just two remaining, Michael, 21 years her senior and married by the time Jane was nine (and would die when Jane was just 14), and her brother William, born on the same day as Jane but 18 years earlier, away being educated then serving as an MP for Marlborough, she was in effect an only child. With her father about his business as MP for Cirencester and his affairs as a large landowner, young Jane's main occupation was that of companion to her mother instead of play so that when the desire in middle age to take photos of places and people she loved took hold, the many difficulties that she might encounter as a woman in a mans world, wouldn’t stop her.
Her earlier rebuffs to proposals of marriage were most likely motivated by a need to remain her mother's companion but there were other important matters to deal with as well: Jane’s good friend and cousin, Jane Henrietta Browne, who had married her brother William and given him three children, would die in 1831, leaving him with three infants.
In 1832 their uncle, Wither Bramston, would also die, leaving William his Oakley estate in Hampshire, so William would move his family to this almost new mansion in lush Hampshire parkland. Jane may have joined him right away or after their mother died in 1837, but certainly by the latter she had moved to Oakley to keep house for her brother and help look after his children. In 1846 she must have heard from her cousins in Glamorgan, the Mansel Talbot’s, about cousin “Kit” Talbot’s trip to the Mediterranean, where he took calotypes to make pictures of some of the places he visited.
Jane and “Kit” Mansel Talbot and his sisters had the same great-grandfather, Thomas Beach of Keevil Manor, but the family in Gloucestershire and the Mansel Talbot’s in Glamorgan were closer than that. When Christopher inherited the Margam and Penrice estates at the age of ten, an inheritance that in time would reputedly make him the wealthiest commoner in Britain, it was Jane’s brother William and her father Michael who were his appointed guardians.
While at Oakley, Jane would get to know Edward William St. John, a neighbour, and the only son of the Rev. Edward St. John and his wife Mary: leading to Jane and Edward being married on the 24th February 1848, at the Hicks Beach family seat of Williamstrip, when Jane was 47. Edward, fourteen years younger, must have seemed quite a catch to Jane, and perhaps this is evident from the number of times he is present in her family photos. It was probably in 1848 that her brother William installed them in Oakley Cottage (a house in today’s terms) on his estate.
In the intervening years cousin Emma Thomasina sent Jane copies of family photos taken by her husband the pioneering photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn.
When Jane acquired a camera of her own, some time in the mid 1850s, she behaved as people have done ever since, and used her photos as visual commentary by sending them to friends and family. Some can be seen in the album of her cousin Emma Thomasina Llewelyn’s daughter, Emma Charlotte 1837–1929, now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York). It was not until the late 1850s that Jane started a family album of her own.
Jane’s interest in the possibilities that had been opened up by the invention of her distant cousin, W. Henry Fox Talbot, would have been stimulated by the activities of her relations in South Wales. The early photographic activities of cousin “Kit” Talbot and his friend Calvert Jones must have been the talk of the family. And soon, Penllergare, the home of Jane’s cousin Emma and her husband John Dillwyn Llewelyn and their family, was a hot bed of activity in the world of photography, with visits from pioneers in the subject like Peter Wickens Fry and James Knight, and all of them sharing information. But who was it that helped this middle-aged Georgian lady with the technical help that she would have needed to understand this very modern science?
It has been assumed until now that the principal help must have come from Jane’s cousin Emma and her husband John Dillwyn Llewelyn. We know that Jane kept in contact with her cousins in Glamorgan and that photography was sometimes the subject, but there is no evidence of her asking advice. In all probability they were too far away for something that would have involved plenty of questions and some practical help as well, and information on what and where to buy the right equipment. But her family album has a valuable a clue as to how she would make this giant leap in technical knowledge, for it tells us that perhaps through the contacts mentioned above she had found herself an excellent mentor.
In an album that was almost totally reserved for her and Edward’s family she places a complete outsider, Peter Wickens Fry, on page one, even before the portrait of the children that she helped to bring up. Fry seems to have given her the help that she would have needed before heading off on a journey to Italy in 1856 (a journey that Fry had made himself) reasonably confident that she would return with what she wanted.
Fry was probably introduced to Jane by the Llewelyn’s, but there are many possibilities; so far we don’t know how they were introduced but from the wealth of family documents in the Gloucestershire Archive it may be explained in the future.
In the spring of 1856 Jane and Edward had set off equipped with a camera and probably a prepared quantity of iodised paper for her calotypes on a journey through France to Italy, where more than one hundred times she positioned her camera to record the scenes that she liked most. One hundred and six of these Italian views are now in the J. Paul Getty Museum.
In a family that had experienced so many premature deaths Jane was the exception and died at Oakley on the 18th November 1882 aged 81. Her husband Edward St. John died four years later on the 18th April 1886. They are both buried in St. Leonards Churchyard, Oakley, with clearly identifiable headstones.
[Courtesy of Keith Robinson, June 2013]
Jane St. John, née Beach, who married a landed proprietor in Hampshire, became a distant relative of photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn through the marriage of her eldest brother. He was the grandfather of Carolyn Beach, who married John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn, the eldest son of the family. Through that connection, she met Talbot’s relatives. This tangled family tree brought her regularly into the country houses that served as centers of amateur photography. St. John worked in both calotype and collodion, taking portraits, views in Italy, and scenes of the grounds of the houses. In an undated letter to Talbot’s cousin, Emma Llewelyn, she commented on her Italian negatives; some were fine and some so bad they were worthless to print from. Unlike many amateurs, she prided herself on making her own prints. Dashing to and from the camera during a long exposure, she attempted a self-portrait in front of the Colosseum. St. John was particularly fond of her “picturesque” view of Salerno.
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012.
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