About William Lawrence
On the 20th March 1865 at the age of 24 William Mervin Lawrence opened a Photographic Studio opposite the G. P .O. at Sackville street Dublin. Over the years the studio successfully photographed the length and breadth of Ireland from Howth Head in the East to Achill Head in the West ,and from Malin Head in the North to Skibbereen the South). The collection consists of 40,000 glass plates mainly from the period 1880-1914, but some plates go back to 1870.
Lawrence was not himself a photographer, but an early entrepreneur. He opened his Studio in his mother’s toy and fancy-goods shop.
At that time there was great interest in Studio Portraits and he employed a portrait photographer. At that time his brother, John Fortune Lawrence, took stereo photographs and William took a keen interest in them ,and took over the sales.
He employed a team of printers, artists (colourists and retouches). In 1880 when the dry plate process came in William Lawrence employed Robert French as his chief Photographer.
French was born in Dublin and spent some time working in the Royal Irish Constabulary, then joined Lawrence Studio, and he worked his way up as printer, artist and then assistant photographer. He took over 30,000 photographs of the “Lawrence Collection”.
William Lawrence produced at least 11 albums as follows:
- Dublin City and County
- Counties of Wicklow and Wexford
- The Lakes of Killarney & Glengarriff
- Cork, Blarney, & Queenstown (Cobh)
- Belfast & the County Down
- Glens and the Coast of Antrim
- Giant’s Causeway, Portrush, and Antrim County
- Lough Erne, Bundoran and the Donegal Highlands
- West of Ireland, Galway, Connemara, and Achill Island
- Armagh and its Environs
- Irish Life and Character
William Lawrence also produced a series of travel albums called the “Emerald Isle” albums.
Also Produced in Chicago in 1897 in weekly parts “Ireland in Pictures”. A grand collection of over 500 magnificent photographs of the beauties of the Green Isle. In the 1890’s a new line of business developed, when the post office allowed postcards to be sent without envelopes, and after 1902 when one side could be devoted to a picture, and you could send a message, his postcard business took off.
Lawrence’s business prospered for nearly 50 years but in the latter years as photographs became common and good reproductions appeared in newspapers and magazines, and when the cinema, moving pictures came in. and of course with the invention of the Box Brownie, the business was falling off, by that time Lawrence and French were in there early seventies and Robert French retired in 1914 and William Lawrence in 1916.
In 1916 the premises in Sackville Street was looted and burnt down during the Easter Rising. Most of the portrait negatives were destroyed. The negatives of scenes around Ireland were stored in Rathmines and survived. The firm closed down in 1942 and the following year, the negatives (glass plates) were acquired by the National Library of Ireland.