John Thomas Biltcliffe 1878 – 1964
By 1889, John Thomas Biltcliffe’s father, Joshua Biltcliffe, had set up a photographic studio at the rear of his general store at 6 Bridge Street, Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire.
John Thomas (known as J T) would have been familiar with and involved in the business as the family lived next door to the shop and the studio.
Sometime after the 1901 census, John Thomas and his younger brother Frederick became photographers.
By 1904, at least two of Joshua’s four sons had officially joined the business which became known as Joshua Biltcliffe & Sons.
At some stage around 1904 the business opened up a second studio in Skelmanthorpe, just a few miles away, and advertised under the name of J Biltcliffe & Sons until 1925 when J T’s brother, Frederick, took it over in his sole name and advertised it until 1938.
Also, by 1904, J T and Fred were advertising in the style of Biltcliffe Brothers as photographers working out of 6 Bridge Street so the brothers and their father were both advertising separate photographic businesses working from the same address; Joshua until 1914 and the Biltcliffe Brothers until 1922.
As well as having a portrait studio, J T and his father and his brother photographed most of the local activities and produced many of their photographs as postcards.
J T died in 1964 and the shop and studio were closed.
1881 – age 2, at Prospect Terrace, Thurlstone, West Riding of Yorkshire with Joshua Biltcliffe (father), Mary Hannah Biltcliffe (mother), Ernest Arthur Biltcliffe and Henry Biltcliffe (brothers)
1891 – age 12, at 6 Bridge Street, Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire with Joshua Biltcliffe (father), Mary Hannah Biltcliffe (mother), Ernest Arthur Biltcliffe, Henry Biltcliffe and Frederick William Biltcliffe (brothers)
1901 – age 22, at 6 Bridge Street, Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire (occupation – worker at Railway Company) with Joshua Biltcliffe (father), Mary Hannah Biltcliffe (mother), and his brothers Ernest Arthur Biltcliffe (worker at Railway Company), Henry Biltcliffe (worker at Railway Company) and Frederick William Biltcliffe (carpet apprentice)
1911 – age 32, at Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire (occupation – photographer ?)
John Thomas Biltcliffe was born in 1878 in Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire and was the son of Joshua Biltcliffe, a steel works labourer, and Mary Hannah Biltcliffe (nee Wood). He had an older brother Ernest born a year earlier in1877.
In 1881, his younger brother Henry Biltcliffe was born at Thurlstone whilst the family was living at Prospect Terrace in Thurlstone.
In 1882, another brother named Frederick William Biltcliffe arrived. In due course, Frederick also became a photographer in the family firm.
At some time prior to 1889, when J T was 11 years old, his father opened a studio in a small hut at The Prospect, Thurlstone and by 1889 had moved it to the town of Penistone and opened a store at 6 Bridge Street. J T’s father moved the studio hut from Thurlstone on the back of a cart and attached it to the rear of the store in what was known as Vernon Place (possibly also known as Vernon Terrace). A showroom, picture frame workshop and darkroom were also added. J T and his brothers no doubt were involved in this big adventure.
The main shop sold musical items such as gramophones, sheet music and violin strings as well as more general items such as hosiery and school uniforms.
In 1889 J T’s father advertised in trade directories as a photographer and continued to advertise as such until the beginning of WW1 in 1914.
J T’s father, Joshua, was also very involved in music and in the church and he took a very active part in the Netherfield Congregational Church. John Thomas must have got his musicality from his father as he played the piano including, probably, the one in his parent’s living room at 6 Bridge Street.
In 1891, at the age of 12, J T was living at home at 6 Bridge Street, Penistone with his father, his mother and his three brothers.
In the 1901 census the three older boys in their early 20s were shown as working for the railway company and Frederick aged 18, the youngest, was a carpet apprentice.
As the Biltcliffe boys grew up they must have become involved in the shop and two of them, J T and Fred became particularly involved in the photography side of the business.
A shop (not a studio) was also opened at nearby Denby Dale.
The business at 6 Bridge Street continued to flourish and there was a row of 6 houses to the left of the shop which in later years were acquired by J T.
In 1904, Joshua changed the name of the business to Biltcliffe & Sons and it continued in that style until 1936. At sometime around 1904, a studio was opened at Skelmanthorpe in the name of J Biltcliffe & Sons. Skelmanthorpe is a large village eight miles to the north of Penistone. J T’s brother Frederick appears to have been the leading operator at Skelmanthorpe studio and eventually ran it in his own name. Meanwhile, J T took a more leading role in the Penistone studio.
By 1904, J T and Fred were advertising in the style of Biltcliffe Brothers as photographers working out of 6 Bridge Street so the brothers and their father were advertising two separate photographic businesses working from the same address.
J T also followed in his father’s footstep by continuing to publish postcards which combined words and music with a photograph of the local area (see below).
In 1914, J T would have been 36 years old. The Great War of 1914 – 1918 would have altered many people’s lives. However, for some reason, neither J T nor his photographer brother, Fred, served in WW1; nor is there any record of his other two brothers being called up. Initially only men between the ages of 19 and 38, at least 5 foot 6 inches tall with chest measurements of at least 34 inches were accepted. However, many rejected in the first wave of enlistments were later accepted when standards were revised.
In 1915, John Thomas Biltcliffe married Martha Eleanor Swift (1899-1969) at Netherfield Independent Church, Penistone. Martha was 16 years old and was the daughter of gamekeeper John Edward Swift and Lavinia Swift (nee Milnes).
J T’s first child, Charles J Biltcliffe, was born at Penistone born in 1918.
Son Charlie was followed by Marjorie Biltcliffe on the 9th August 1924. She was born at No. 8 Bridge Street, Penistone. Marjorie went on to marry William Henry Robert Welch on the 10th January 1945 (or 46?) and had two children, Geoffrey and Sheila (the main source of information for this biography).
John Thomas Biltcliffe, like his father, recorded most of the local events such as gatherings, festivals and sports activities as well as weddings etc. He left behind a wonderful social record of Penistone and district during the first half of the 20th century. Many of the pictures were produced as postcards and many still exist today. One particularly postcard taken by J T actually captures Joshua right in front centre of the crowd; immediately behind the bandsmen – see below.
In 1925, J T very sadly lost his elder brother, Ernest, at the relatively young age of 48.
J T was at the heart of the community and, according to his local newspaper
- in his youth, Mr. Biltcliffe cycled hundreds of miles a year throughout the district. His many local ‘scoops’ included the visit of Cody’s aeroplane to Penistone in 1909; the Penistone viaduct wreck of 1916; the Royal visit in 1912; the opening of Penistone Carnegie library (1913).’
- he also took ‘a photograph of James Ashton, Penistone town crier, who deposited his bell with a local licensee and wandered over the moors, never to be seen again as well as pictures of huntsmen, children, civic heads, snow and flood scenes, parades, processions, team groups, Whit walks, and many other pictorial records, now part of Penistones heritage.’
- it was once said that “every baby in Penistone had lain on the skin rug at his shop”
- he was a life-long and ardent worker for Netherfield Congregational Church and a member of Penistone Bowling Club.
Below is an excellent portrait of J T which shows his ‘cheerful and youthful spirit’.
Unfortunately, J T had the terrible misfortune, as did so many others, of losing his only son, killed in Italy during the 1939-1945 war. Charlie’s military details are recorded as:
- Name: Charles Biltcliffe
- Given Initials: C J
- Rank: Signalman
- Death Date: 31 Oct 1943
- Number: 2364083
- Birth Place: Yorkshire
- Residence: Sheffield Branch at Enlistment: Royal Corps of Signals
- Theatre of War: Italy
- Regiment at Death: Royal Corps of Signals.
John Thomas Biltcliffe continued to work until 1964 when he died after a short illness. The business was closed and the shop pulled down to make an entrance for a garage.
The local newspaper, the South Yorkshire Times, ran a very comprehensive article about J T’s life shortly afterwards – see below.
The article reads as follows:
Death of Mr. J T Biltcliffe – octogenarian photographer
The small shop in St. Mary’s Street (sic – should be Bridge Street), Penistone, is closed and shuttered. Mr. John Thomas Biltcliffe, the town’s only professional photographer, died on Friday and his passing marks the end of an era.
In the shop’s dark interior, Penistone’s history is stacked in boxes, indexed and filed, among photographic equipment, for Mr. Biltcliffe (aged 85) has left behind a comprehensive record of 19th -20th century Penistone.
A few years ago he stopped taking photographs on outside assignments but up to last week, when he was suddenly taken ill, he could always be found at the shop, and was proud of his mammoth pictorial collection and eager to show visitors a selection of the many prints – which must run into thousands – taken in Penistone, Stocksbridge and Barnsley areas.
Many Scoops In his youth, Mr. Biltcliffe cycled hundreds of miles a year throughout the district. His many local ‘scoops’ included the visit of Cody’s aeroplane to Penistone in 1909; rail smashes, at Penistone station, way back in 1889 (a photograph presumably taken by his father); the Penistone viaduct wreck of 1916; the Royal visit in 1912; the opening of Penistone Carnegie library (1913).
A photograph of James Ashton, Penistone town crier, who, years ago, deposited his bell with a local licensee and wandered over the moors, never to be seen again; huntsmen, children who themselves are now pensioners, civic heads, snow and flood scenes, parades, processions, team groups, Whit walks, and many other pictorial records, are now part of the town’s heritage.
Revived Sales Recently the town’s busiest octogenarian continued to do a roaring trade. He sold a large selection of prints to the Penistone Urban Council clerk, Col. J Hodgkinson, and these will be placed in the library, and following the revival of interest he received a large demand for photos of the last Denby Dale pie in 1928.
Over the years prints by Biltcliffe spread far and wide. Some of his pie pictures were used on a television programme. He rode on a friend’s dray to cover the Denby Dale event. There was little doubt that he had one of the best views – and certainly the best pictures!
His father was a well known craftsman, and Mr. Biltcliffe also had a collection of photographs of sketches of local places and scenes made by his father.
In the Family At a property sale at Penistone this week one of the listed items was a clock by Biltcliffe.
Visitors interested in local history could spend all day in the shop, browsing through records of recent and long forgotten events. Prominent figures of the past, events and places would have sunk into oblivion had it not been for Mr. Biltcliffe’s art, and he was a firm believer in the old adage “It is better to see once than to hear a thousand times”. Examples of Mr. Biltcliffe’s work accompany this article.
The main question now is what will happen to Mr. Biltcliffe’s collection of prints and negatives. Coun. Wilfred Gledhill, Chairman of Penistone Library Committee, “I hope the Council will be given some chance of taking steps to preserve the collection. It must not be lost,” he commented.
Seventy Years Mr. Biltcliffe was the last of four sons of Mr. Joshua Biltcliffe, who established the shop in St. Mary’s Street more than 70 years ago.
He leaves a widow, Mrs. Martha Eleanor Biltcliffe, daughter Mrs. Marjorie Welch and two grand-children. His only son, Charles, was killed on active service in Italy in the last war.
It was once said that “every baby in Penistone had lain on the skin rug at his shop”. It was not unusual for him to take landscape scenes in the early hours of the morning and once attended a birthday party at 4 a.m. – the people were leaving the district but did not want to depart before having their photos taken.
He was a life-long and ardent worker for Netherfield Congregational Church and a member of Penistone Bowling Club.
The Funeral The funeral service, conducted by the Rev. J H Jones, took place at Netherfield on Monday when prayers were led by the Rev. A R Blackledge, Vicar of Penistone.
Mr. Biltcliffe, Mr. Jones said, was always cheerful and youthful in spirit. Although he had not been able to attend Netherfield recently he was in the habit of going outside his home to watch the church lights switched on.
Mourners included Mrs. M E Biltcliffe, Mr. and Mrs. Welch, Geoffrey and Sheila Welch, Miss C Biltcliffe , Mr. and Mrs. Gregory, Mrs. F White, Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Houldsworth, Mrs. Hill, Mr. T Wadsworth, Mr. and Mrs. C Bashforth, Mr. W Simpson, Mrs. G Simpson, Mr. G Bashforth, Mr. B Townend, Mrs. J Marsh, Mrs. Field, Mrs. Eyre, Mr. Bean, Misses D and N Hirst, Mr. E Marsh, Mr. F Winterbottom, Mr. R H Beever, Mrs. Barden, Mr. E Jessop, Mr. S Platt, Mr. W H Peace, Mr. J W Penistone, Mr. A W Jagger, Mr. H Jagger, Mr. H Shirtcliffe.
John Thomas Biltcliffe had a father who was a photographer – see Joshua Biltcliffe
John Thomas Biltcliffe also had a brother who was a photographer – see Fred Biltcliffe
Father Joshua Biltcliffe born Penistone (1853-1937)
Mother Mary Hannah Biltcliffe (nee Wood) born Penistone (1855–1901)
Born 29 (28?) May 1878 in Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire
Married 1915 to Martha Eleanor Swift (1899-1969) at Netherfield Independent Church, Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire (daughter of gamekeeper John Edward Swift & Lavinia Swift (nee Milnes)
Child 1 Charles J Biltcliffe, born 1918 at Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire. Killed in action in Italy, World War 2 1939-1945
Child 2 Marjorie Biltcliffe born 9 August 1924 at Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire. Died 22 October 2010.
Died 1964, aged 86, in Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire.
Compiled by Ron Cosens © www.cartedevisite.co.uk
- Sheila Baker – firstname.lastname@example.org granddaughter of John Thomas Biltcliffe, family historian, who provided some of the information for the life story above
- Sandy Barrie for trade directory information
- Marcel Safier for additional research
- Ron Cosens for images from the Victorian Image Collection
John Thomas Biltcliffe – Gallery
Below are examples of J T’s photography: