JB Smithson in 1932

John Brown Smithson was born on the 11th of January 1848 at Smarber. He was the son of John Smithson and Mary, nee Brown, of Low Row. The family moved to Cockfield near Bishop Auckland some time in 1854, although they may have left Smarber before then.

John Smithson senior worked in the mines at Cockfield before moving to West Witton in Wensleydale in 1859 to work at the Keld Heads Lead Mine, near Wensley Station, where there is a rise named after him. John junior trained as a game keeper at Swinithwaite with his uncle, James Smithson, before moving to Ulverston, Lancs, then to Haydon Bridge in Northumberland, where his father traded as a clockmaker. It was here, in about 1870, that John junior first became interested in photography.

A few years later John junior moved to Leyburn where he set up the Wensleydale Studio opposite the Town Hall. Then, as a good Methodist, he took over the Railway Hotel and renamed it the Wensleydale Temperance Hotel, adding a studio and darkroom. He worked there until 1926 when he retired, at the age of 78, to Craven House, West Burton, and died there in March 1938 aged 90 years and two months. He was buried at Leyburn Cemetery. Married twice, his first wife, Elizabeth Strafen, died in 1892 aged 47. They had eight children two of whom, Christopher and John, followed their father's career.

Picture postcards were first permitted in Britain in 1896 and JB Smithson produced thousands of local cards working from studios and caravans in Hawes, Scotton, Catterick, Pateley Bridge and Aysgarth. He is credited with taking over 50,000 photographs.

Information kindly supplied by Clive Torrens from his book 'J B Smithson and the Northern Dales', published 1998