The Annan Collection

Thomas Annan, Glasgow-based photographer, is best known for his photographs of the city centre slums prior to their demolition in the late 1860s. The photographs were published in 'The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow' which is widely recognised as a classic of 19th century documentary photography. Annan was also an accomplished photographer of paintings, portraits, and landscapes and employed a range of, sometimes pioneering, photographic techniques throughout his career.

About Thomas Annan

Portrait of Thomas Annan

Thomas Annan (1829 -1887) was the son of a Fife farmer and flax spinner and lived for most of his life in Glasgow. He set up business with George Berwick at 40 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, listing in the 1855-56 Glasgow post office directory as calotypists, practitioners of this early form of photography.

An image of 40 Woodlands Road taken around 1960. This was Annan's first photographic studio.

40 Woodlands Road c. 1960. From the Virtual Mitchell (Ref: c1418).

After training and working as a copperplate engraver, he set up a photographic studio in Sauchiehall Street in 1857. He concentrated initially on architectural photography but then turned his attention to portraits. In 1866 Annan was commissioned by Glasgow City Improvement Trust to photograph slum areas in the old part of the city before urban renewal took place. This resulted in the landmark series of photographs, Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow, which was published between 1868 and 1877.

James Craig Annan and John Annan

His second son, James Craig Annan (1864 – 1946), joined the business at a young age and began assisting his father in the studio. In 1883, they obtained a license for the photogravure process from its Austrian inventor Karl Klic and became Britain's foremost gravure printing establishments. On his father’s death, he took over the business alongside his brother, John Annan (1862 – 1947), the former dealing with portrait photography, and the latter specialising in the architectural photography business.

We have around 240 individual volumes of 65 titles containing photographs produced by the Annan family, as well as around 500 loose prints, mainly from disbound or damaged volumes.

Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow

Close No. 46 Saltmarket, Glasgow. Close No. 46 Saltmarket, Glasgow. From Glasgow Improvements Act, 1866, photographs of streets, closes &c. taken 1868-71. 1871.

In 1866, Glasgow Corporation passed an Act through Parliament which enabled it to demolish the slum housing in the old town which centred around High Street, Saltmarket, Trongate and Gallowgate. These dark, narrow, over-crowded wynds were home to mainly working-class immigrants from the Highlands and Ireland. In advance of the demolition, the Trustees of the Improvement Trust commissioned Thomas Annan to make a historical record of the buildings. For three years, Annan carried his equipment around the maze of closes capturing not only the buildings, but also their inhabitants.

The first edition of Old Closes and Streets contained 31 albumen prints and was published in a very limited edition in 1871. The albumen prints were prone to fading so, in 1878, Annan reprinted the photographs using the carbon process (having acquired the rights to this process in 1866) which were cheaper to produce and more resilient. A further edition was published in 1900 by Thomas Annan's son, James Craig. This later volume contained 50 photogravure plates.

View a selection of images from this part of the collection in the Annan gallery.

Views of the Line of Loch Katrine Water Works

The Water Commissioners, on their annual inspection, 24th August, 1876. The Water Commissioners were the members of the city council responsible for the running of the waterworks. From Photographic views of Loch Katrine, and of some of the principal works constructed for introducing the water of Loch Katrine into the city of Glasgow. 1877.

As Glasgow's population grew rapidly so did the demand for clean water; the River Clyde was becoming increasingly polluted and could no longer meet demand. Glasgow's city officials identified Loch Katrine, about 35 miles from Glasgow, as the new source of a clean water supply to the city. Annan was commissioned by the Glasgow Waterworks Corporation to document this feat of engineering. The resulting photogrpahs were published in Annan's first major album,The Views of the Line of Loch Katrine Water Works, 1859. He continued photographing the evolution of the aqueduct for the next 20 years and the later Photographic Views of Loch Katrine show the completed work in 1877.

The Painted Windows of Glasgow Cathedral

The Great Prophets' Window designed by Heinrich von Hess

The Great Prophets’ designed by Heinrich von Hess, the gift of the Duke of Hamilton. From The painted windows of Glasgow Cathedral : a series of forty-three photographs. 1867.

In 1867, Annan published a volume of 43 photographs called The Painted Windows of Glasgow Cathedral. A restoration of the Cathedral had seen a group of benefactors gift more than 80 stained glass windows. The commission was awarded, controversially, to the Royal Bavarian Stained Glass Establishment of Munich in 1857 despite having many skilled craftsmen that could have completed the work in Britain. Annan photographed 43 windows and published The Painted Windows of Glasgow Cathedral, overcoming many technical difficulties, such as the the scale of the windows. These windows were removed in the late 1930s as they had deteriorated  in the much-polluted and highly-industrialised atmosphere of Glasgow. 

Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry

Photograph of Belvidere House, Glasgow taken from The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Belvidere House, Glasgow (Thomas Annan, 1870).

Belvidere House. From The old country houses of the old Glasgow gentry / one hundred photographs by Annan ... / with descriptive notices of the houses and families by John Buchanan ... [et al.]. 1870.

As Glasgow expanded in the late nineteenth century, it gradually swallowed up the grand estates of the upper classes. Many of their fine mansion houses disappeared as land was sold and then built upon. The first edition of The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry was published in 1870, with photographs by Thomas Annan, to create a record of country houses in and around Glasgow thought likely to be affected by the growth of the city.  

View a selection of images from this part of the collection in the Annan gallery.

Memorials of the Old College of Glasgow

Unicorn and Lion staircase from Memorials of the old College of Glasgow, 1871

Unicorn and Lion staircase. From Memorials of the old College of Glasgow.

Glasgow University, or Glasgow College as it was originally called, occupied the area around High Street from 1457 and 1870. In the later years, the college was feeling the effects of a rapidly growing population - the noise, disease, crime of the neighbouring slums and inadequate facilities and overcrowding - and the decision was made to move the university to Gilmorehill. The University commissioned Annan to produce a visual record before every building was demolished. One part of the old university does survive...the Lion and Unicorn staircase was dismantled stone-by-stone and rebuilt outside the west wing of the Main Building. Annan published Memorials of the Old College of Glasgow in 1871. 

Finding aids

Annan Collection Bound Volumes listing (PDF, 286KB)

Annan Collection Loose Prints listing (PDF, 292KB)

Further reading

If you wish to read more about Thomas Annan, browse the library catalogue.

Image Galleries: Old Closes and Streets

cross-section from gallery

Image Galleries: Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry

cross-section from gallery

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