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Came House Conservatory 1912

The Country House in Edwardian Dorset

9 October – 5 December 2009

Between 1903 and 1918 the photographer Charles Cornish-Browne captured on camera the world of Dorset’s country houses.

This was his local contribution to the National Photographic Record Association’s attempt to record the architecture, history and cultural heritage of Britain.

This exhibition, which was held at Dorset County Museum in the Autumn of 2009, brought Cornish-Browne’s atmospheric and evocative images together with costume, furniture and paintings from the period. It gave a nostalgic glimpse into a way of life that would soon be changed forever by the impact of the First World War on the society and economy of Dorset.

Came House 1909

Born in 1881, Charles Cornish-Browne was a keen amateur photographer who lived with his family near Dorchester.

A man of “delicate constitution with studious, artistic and antiquarian tastes”, he was also “an expert with the camera”. This led in 1903 to his appointment as Director of the Dorset Photographic Survey.

In this role he toured Dorset in the first part of the 20th century photographing its finest buildings and “making a valuable contribution to the illustrative record of the county”.

A member of Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, forerunner to Dorset Natural History and Archaeology Society, in May 1922 he was voted its new President. Tragically he died from septic poisoning caused by chicken pox later the same year. He was aged just 42.

Sir Benjamin Stone, founder of the NPRA, c.1900

The images in this exhibition were taken from the collection presented to Dorset County Museum by Cornish-Browne almost 100 years ago. They form the most significant part of Dorset’s contribution to the National Photographic Record Association (NPRA).

Established in 1897 by Sir Benjamin Stone, the NPRA recorded “ancient buildings, folk customs and survivals of historical interest for the future” in order to create a national memory bank. Co-ordinated by the British Museum in London, the NPRA depended on the endeavours of amateurs like Cornish-Browne to carry out local surveys.

Strict rules defined the size of the photographs and the use of fade-resistant platinum as a printing medium. Because of these requirements, Cornish-Browne’s images of Edwardian Dorset have deteriorated very little and are as clear today as when he first took them.