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Self portrait featuring wife, photograph by Benjamin Brecknell Turner, about 1855. Museum no.  E.153-2003, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Self portrait featuring wife, photograph by Benjamin Brecknell Turner, about 1855. Museum no.  E.153-2003, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Benjamin Brecknell Turner, the eldest son and second in a family of eight children, was born on 12 May 1815 in the family house at 31-32 The Haymarket, London.

Numbers 31-32 served as the business premises of Brecknell & Turner, tallow-chandlers. The company was formed by Turner's father, Samuel, who went into partnership with his uncle-by-marriage, Benjamin Brecknell. The family lived above the company's factory and shop, where candles and saddle-soap were made and sold. At sixteen Benjamin was contracted as an apprentice to his father, he joined the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers in 1837 and became a Freeman of the City of London the following year. By 1836 the family had moved to Balham in South London.

When Samuel Turner died in 1841 he left the business to his two elder sons, B.B. and Robert Samuel Turner although the latter took no active part in the business. The Balham house was sold after Samuel Turner's death and his widow, and some of her children, including Turner, returned to live in the Haymarket.

On 17 August 1847, Turner married Agnes Chamberlain in the church at Bredicot, Worcester. Chamberlain, a member of the Worcester China family joined the household of her mother-in-law over the shop in the Haymarket, where Benjamin and Agnes' eight children were born.

According to the family history, 'BBT took up photography in 1849 with a license from Fox Talbot'. Turner, his wife and their growing family spent long summer holidays at Bredicot.

Turner began to photograph with new ambition in 1852, and commenced his long and distinguished career as an exhibitor later in December of the same year. Six of his photographs were shown in the world's first purely photographic exhibition. 'Recent Specimens of Photography' which appeared at the Society of Arts in London, and subsequently toured to centres in England and Scotland.

Photograph of Ludlow by Benjamin Brecknell Turner, 1852-1854, albumen Print from paper negative. Museum no. PH.25-1982, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photograph of Ludlow by Benjamin Brecknell Turner, 1852-1854, albumen Print from paper negative. Museum no. PH.25-1982, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Turner was a founding-member of the Photographic Society of London which was formed in 1853, and later served as a Vice President. In 1858 he gave the society's embryonic collection four of the photographs he had shown in the Society of Arts exhibition of 1852, as well as the copy of Fox Talbot's 'The Pencil of Nature'. He also showed his work in the society's annual exhibitions, which began in 1854, as well as in exhibitions in Norwich, Manchester ('The Art Treasures of England' exhibition of 1857), Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Turner was highly productive and visible in the 1850s. His photographic campaigns took him to many parts of England and to Holland in 1857. He also joined the temporary army of 'Volunteers', which was supposed to repulse the French during the diplomatic crisis of 1859-60. He exhibited in the International Exhibitions held in Paris in 1855 (when he received a bronze medal) and in South Kensington in 1862.

Turner also made studio portraits on glass negatives. His 'glass-house' studio was above his Haymarket premises. He made many portraits here in the 1850s although he seems never to have exhibited them. His subjects were members of his business and household. Turner served as treasurer and honorary secretary to the Photographic Exchange Club and he masterminded a handsome volume of photographs titled 'The Photographic Album for the Year' 1857.

Turner seems to have retreated for a few years from the public exhibition of his photographs. He and his family left central London in 1864 for a suburban house in Tulse Hill. His wife's diary recorded holidays in Cromer, Charmouth, Brittany, Barmouth and Newquay. He showed two prints at the Photographic Society's annual exhibition in 1875. After which he seems to have settled into retirement. Agnes Turner died in 1887 and Turner himself in 1894.

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