Righton, John William

Methodist photographer, born on 23 July 1857 at Melbourne, near Pocklington, Yorks., a third-generation Wesleyan. After serving as a pupil-teacher at Selby, he trained at Westminster College in 1876-77 and was appointed headmaster of the WM day school at Snaith, Yorks. He then went to Gibraltar for twelve years for the sake of his health, where he was headmaster of the Jewish School and the WM school. Returning to England after his wife's death in 1893, he served the cause of education in a number of ways, and developed his interest in photography, first in Leeds and from 1894 in Newbury. He was a major contributor to the series of 'Methodist Pictorial Post Cards' launched by the Publishing House in 1905. Much of his early work at his shop in Northbrook Street, Newbury was in portrait photography. His reputation grew rapidly and he was commissioned to visit country houses in the area to record social occasions, including visits of King Edward VII and other members of the royal family. He was also commissioned to take the photographs at the wedding of Winston and Clementine Churchill in 1908.

With the advent of the picture postcard at the beginning of the twentieth century, he began to produce a wide range of topographical cards of the Newbury area. His prolific output quickly expanded to include a wide range of Methodist subjects, including Cliff College, the National Children's Home and Orphanage, and the WM Conference. In 1905, in conjunction with the Methodist Publishing House, he produced a series of over 170 cards, mostly featuring ministers, personalities and locations. He was regarded as the connexional photographer to the WM Conference and over many years contributed many of the photographs printed in the Methodist Recorder. When the inclusion of photographs ceased in most publications during World War I, and with bouts of indifferent health, his work was curtailed.

With his teaching experience, he held office on the Finance, School Management and General Purposes sub-committee of Newbury Council for many years. He held a number of offices at the Newbury WM church, including Sunday School Superintendent, WMMS secretary and manager of the WM Day School until it merged with the local authority school. He died at Richmond, Yorks. on 4 October 1921.

  • WM Education Committee report, 1926/27, p.98
  • Tom Norgate, From Pedagogy to Photography: the life and work of John William Righton (Petersfield, 2008)