was a partner in the Gateshead iron manufacturing company Hawkes,
Crawshay & Sons, responsible for building the High Level
Bridge which is the oldest of the present-day crossings of the River
Tyne and the Iron Bridge in Constantinople.
It is generally
accepted that it was his incompetence as a manager which led the
company, employing at one stage over 800 workers, to close down in the
late 1880s. But he
had other qualities and other interests, being active in the Corn Law agitation and, later, in the movement for
founding mechanics institutes. In 1854, as a
result of hearing David Urquhart speak in Newcastle, Crawshay and
Charles Attwood set up the first of the Foreign Affairs Committees
which were to occupy Urquhart and his supporters for the next decade or
so. When the Free Press
separated from the Sheffield Free Press and came under the
editorship of Collet Dobson Collet, it was Crawshay who financed
And as one of the first members of the Foreign Affairs Committees,
he became also one of the prime movers of the committees’ Turkish Bath
Movement. In 1857, he added the first private Turkish
bath to be built in England since the days of the Romans to Tynemouth House,
where he was then living. In
the following years he was to become a shareholder in the North Shields
Turkish Bath Company and the London & Provincial Turkish Bath Company.
cousin Robert Crawshay was, more successfully, one of the Iron Kings of
Cyfartha, Merthyr Tydfil, running what was reputedly the largest iron
works in the world.
However, in 1860 Robert suffered a severe illness which seriously affected his
ability to see and hear. On his recovery, he took up the rapidly
developing art, or science, of photography, using the wet collodion
process which had been developed in the early 1850s. He became, by all
accounts, a gifted photographer many of whose photographs can be seen
today at Cyfartha Castle, once the family home, but now a museum
and art gallery open to the public.
The ambrotype was an early form of glass negative which could be
made to appear as a positive image by the process of backing it
with black paper or varnish. The process required that the camera expose
the plate while the coating of guncotton and ether was still wet, so that
it was most effectively carried out with the help of an assistant.
time in the mid-1980s, Mark Haworth-Booth, now Senior Curator, Department of Prints, Drawings and Paintings
at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was shown three ambrotypes which had
been offered to the museum by a great-grandson of George Crawshay.
Haworth-Booth considered these collodion positives ‘the best I have ever
seen.’ He added that, according to the
great-grandson, the ambrotypes had been made by Robert Crawshay ‘in the
only privately-owned Turkish bath in Victorian England, at Tynemouth,
about 1870.’ A note received later from George’s descendant said
that ‘the two men concerned are doubtless my great-uncles Arthur and
Martin Crawshay demonstrating their father’s private Turkish bath and
Where were they
taken, when, of whom, and by whom?
The photographs, especially when seen in their enlarged versions,
are amazingly clear. It is not known how they were so well lit (given
that Turkish baths tend to be designed with subdued lighting) and the
use a magnesium flare has been suggested. They may well be the earliest
pictures of bathers using a Victorian Turkish bath. If they were
taken in George Crawshay’s Tyneside House, they would be even more
significant than if they were merely taken in any early Turkish
pictures pose a number of problems to do with their attribution, date,
and location—none of which, it must be emphasised, in any way detracts
from the importance or beauty of the photographs.
In fact where they were taken depends very much on when they were
taken. George Crawshay sold Tynemouth House in 1862 and purchased
Haughton Castle, north west of Hexham, in its place. If,
therefore, the ambrotypes were made in the Tyneside House Turkish bath
then they had to have been made prior to 1863.
But most of those who
have studied the pictures suggest that Robert Crawshay did not take up
photography until about 1866 and that, even if he had started earlier,
it would be highly unlikely that he could have produced such remarkable
results with a very complicated process so quickly. So, if the pictures
were indeed taken in George’s first Turkish bath they are most
have been taken by some other photographer.
The only description of
the Tynemouth House Turkish bath that we have is that George built
‘a large Turkish bath at one side of the House’ and that it was designed
by the local architect, James Shotton, who later went on to design the
Cecil Street establishment in North Shields and the Pilgrim Street Baths
On the other hand Mark
Haworth-Booth was told that they had been made by Robert Crawshay in the
1870s. But by 1870, George's bath was not the only possibility. Many
private Turkish baths had since been built, including one at nearby
Preston Cottage, North Shields, and, most notably, Armstrong's at
Cragside—a National Trust property where the bath and its beautiful
rain-shower can still be seen.
the ambrotypes were made by Crawshay in the 1870s, then they might even have been taken in the Cecil Street
baths. The description we have of the construction of these baths includes a number of features similar to those visible in
the photographs, and George, as a director of the company, could easily have
arranged for Robert to use them.
However, it seems far
more likely that they were taken in the new Turkish bath which George
built for his family at Haughton Castle. We do know that soon after he
moved in he employed the well-known architect, Anthony Salvin (who was
in the area at that time working at Alnwick Castle) to restore Haughton
and build a new west wing.
new Turkish bath was outside the main building, but we do not, so far,
know whether it was designed by Salvin. Photographic experts have suggested
that the pictures were taken some time around 1866-1868 so the Turkish bath at
Haughton Castle seems, on balance, to be the most likely location. The
bath building survived until the 1960s when it was knocked down by a
final question relates to whether the two men in the pictures can be
positively identified as George’s sons. The answer again has to be
negative in the absence of other pictures which positively identify
them. When George’s great-grandson wrote of them, he used the phrase ‘the two men concerned are doubtless my great-uncles’.
This is by no means a positive identification; the inclusion of the word
‘doubtless’ clearly indicates that this is an inference rather than
an identification, or why bother to add it? It is even possible—though perhaps
rather unlikely—that the pictures were taken by an unknown photographer in an
unrecognised Turkish bath and sent as a gift to George because of his
known interest in Turkish baths.
no option but to conclude that there appears to be nothing in the pictures themselves to
indicate when they
were taken, or that they are specifically by Robert Crawshay. Neither is
there any firm evidence to prove that the subjects
are George’s two sons. Finally, although the location of the pictures
now seems most likely to have been in George Crawshay's new home, it
will not be possible to indicate this positively until we find a
photograph or plan of the bath at Haughton Castle. The search continues.
Perhaps we should not
bother too much about these problems and, instead, just enjoy the photographs for their intrinsic
beauty and their historical interest.