We were inspired to name Atkins Court, our Pembury Road development after renowned Victorian photographer and botanist Anna Atkins.
Anna Atkins (née Children) was born in Tonbridge in 1799. She received a somewhat unorthodox upbringing. Her mother Hester died shortly after giving birth. Consequently, Anna was raised by her father, John George Children (scientist and founding president of the Royal Entomological Society).
In the Victorian era, men and women conformed to prescribed gender roles. Men went out to work, while women remained at home to oversee the domestic domain. Thus, Victorian women led relatively private lives, focussed on their family, with little freedom outside of the home.
Thanks to her father, however, Anna Atkins benefitted from “an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time”. She also had access to her father’s “large and very well-equipped scientific laboratory in his home at Tonbridge.”¹
Anna assisted her father with his scientific work, producing detailed engravings with which to illustrate his publications. She also met many prominent chemists of the time when they visited her father to ‘investigate the properties of his large battery’.¹
In 1825, Anna married John Pelly Atkins and moved to nearby Halstead. Here she further developed her interest in botany. Anna became an elected member of the London Botanical Society in 1839.²
Sir John Herschel, Anna’s friend, taught her how to make cyanotype photogram images. He had invented the technique.³ Consequently, between 1843 and 1853 she was able to self-publish 3 volumes of ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions‘. This was the first time in history that anyone had printed and published their own book entirely illustrated by photography.
Anna has since been credited as the first female photographer. We still celebrate her pioneering and beautiful work today. Google honoured Anna Atkins in 2015. They produced a special Google Doodle in the style of her botanical cyanotypes.
Anna’s unconventional upbringing, combined with her passion for botany and groundbreaking new photographic techniques enabled her to live a life of discovery, achievement and invention. A far cry from the lives of most Victorian women.
Click here to learn more about the development and take a virtual tour of Atkins Court.