Thursday, 11 November 2021


I really do like the simple photography of William Till, probably more than of all the local photographers who have passed this way from time to time. Uncomplicated and with scant attention to fussy style or technical know-how, personalised with his immature hand-written annotations usually placed carelessly and seemingly lazily along the bottom, they importantly for us today, offer information as to when and less often, where it was taken. The result was usually appealing and especially after a century has passed, his work serves still today to ever remind us of times long passed.  William was an only child who grew up with his parents, namesake William Till, (1816-1871) and Hannah (Parr) who ran a hairdressers and perfumery business in Burton End, near to where the Colles Hall stands today and opposite the lovely twelfth century St Mary’s church.After his basic schooling - education then legally ended at age 14 - he worked for a short time as a farm labourer but was to join his later widowed mother in the family shop at No. 3-5 Burton End where she dealt mainly in toys and fancy goods. At a later time the young William became enraptured with the fascinating new art - or science - of the new photography of which he acquired the necessary skills and combined it with picture-framing to earn a living from the premises whilst his mother dealt with the fancy goods. Photography was only just getting underway with the general public in the 1860s, but it was to burgeon into the following decade when William took up the challenge to convert his new hobby into a successful business which would eventually dominate his life.  Apparently well respected for his ability with a camera together with his business acumen, he seems to have produced a number of pictorial town views which sold briskly as postcards alongside his more formal studio work, many remainders of which are still passed around and discussed to the present time. Some items of pharmacy were also available in the family’s shops operated by various live-in chemists. 

When Hannah Till died in 1909, followed closely by William Snr. some three years later, all of the family’s property comprising three shops in Burton End and two others elsewhere in the town, together with all they contained, controversially went under the hammer by way of the local auction rooms, seemingly an odd intervention at the time which came about due to the fact that William’s father had, in a previous marriage produced a son named ‘Thomas Till’ who was born in 1843 in Melton Mowbray, when his father who was 26, was married to Eliza).  Naturally claiming to be the intended sole heir to a modest family fortune, he was desperately disappointed to discover that he could not legally inherit what he had always understood to be his own inheritance.  But William Till was made of stern stuff and despite this potentially ruinous block by his step-brother to his future aspirations, he somehow raised the large amount then of £1,500 and attended at the auction house to bid for all of what he believed to be his.  It is likely that Thomas Till was not in a financial position to afford the high prices demanded at auction. 


William was not only to survive this massive personal set-back, but he moved onwards to prosper comfortably with success in his re-mortgaged business at the busy little shop in Burton End. In 1889, he would marry Emma Cobley of Melton Mowbray who bore him two sons, one of whom was to die in childbirth - Harold William in 1891 - leaving the survivor and their only son Lionel Leslie (1893-1959), to continue with the family business. Lionel served with the Leicestershire Regiment and the Norfolk Regiment during the course of the cruel conflict of 1914-1918, but it seems that the photographic business, as is frequently the case, was by now without any apparent interest or inclination on the part of the incumbent son and heir bring its termination soon after the death of William in 1912. During 1939, the year of the outbreak of World War II however, Leslie was known to be resident with his widowed mother at 31, Stafford Avenue in the town. This Record shows that he was then unmarried and working as a teacher at a Melton school. He was to marry in the June of 1941, Marie Maidens Reed in 1941 who died in 1971 having borne no kin.  His mother, Emma - or Emily - as she was apparently known - died in the Spring of 1947 aged 66.  Leslie died in 1959 in Melton Mowbray: he was just 66.

Within that relatively short period lifetime the abruptly terminated account of the photographic career of one of my favourite local photographers was closed; extending for a possible half century and although reaching no great personal height in his chosen profession, his work still creates interest amongst those who share an interest in local history today, though of course it never really is the end, as I continue to opine that there remain examples of his work waiting to return to the light of a modern day, monochrome prints or undiscovered postcards depicting the highways and by-ways or the characters and buildings of an old Melton Mowbray, hopefully waiting for us to cast our eyes upon once again or more excitingly as the 'holy grail' of researchers to be looked at for the first time.  

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