Robert Branston

Period of Activity active c. 1828-1850
Gender Male
Biographical Notes The Branston family included several accomplished wood-engravers: Allen Robert Branston (1778-1827), of Norfolk, Bath and London, generally known as Robert Branston, who was trained by his own engraver father and is credited with the establishment of a ‘London School’ of black-line wood engravings (ODNB); his son Robert Edward Branston (1803?-1877) who produced engravings for both English and French publications, one of the most significant in quantity being E. Cresy’s Encyclopedia of Engineering (1847) for which he produced ‘upwards of three thousand engravings on wood’; and another son Frederick William Branston (1805?-?, fl.1830-1849) who, in the 1830s and 1840s, contributed to British and French books and to periodicals such as the Comic Annual and the Magasin Pittoresque. The brothers thus worked with influential figures in the development of the periodical press. Robert was also involved in related business partnerships, successively with John Wright (1829-35), Charles Whiting (until 1840), James Henry Vizetelly and a Mr Whitehead (1840-41), and finally William Dickes.

A Mr Branston was brought from London by the Royal Irish Academy in 1839 to provide the wood cuts for George Petrie's Irish Round Towers, at such cost that the Academy was obliged to sell some of its stocks. Either Robert or Frederick Branston could have engraved the image of Luttrellstown Castle inserted in Miss Hammill's Diary of Travels in Wales and Ireland (1828-1829), where the name Branston is partially hidden in the grassy foreground of the image. The National Library of Ireland has four other woodcuts with the same signature, attributed to Allen Robert Branston (d. 1827), but the dates show that they must be by one of his sons: ‘Dun-Garby Castle, Co. Leitrim’, ‘Holy Cross Abbey, Co. Tipperary’, ‘St Senan’s Well’ (from the Irish Penny Journal, June 1841), and ‘Tomb of Curran’, which must be 1834 or later. These images are clearly all by the same engraver, and all can now be identified as illustrations which accompanied contributions by George Petrie to the Irish Penny Journal between October 1840 and June 1841. As Frederick normally signed with his full name or initials, and the simple surname is associated with his father and elder brother, it seems reasonable to assume that it is Robert Branston who worked with Petrie. Several other woodcuts signed Branston accompany other articles by Petrie in the same journal. There are further Irish links. Robert Branston and H. Swain of London executed wood engravings for the Duncairn Press founded near Belfast in 1850. Sixty of the illustrations in Margaret Stokes’ Early Christian Architecture in Ireland (1878) were engravings of drawings made decades earlier by Petrie, and, of these, twenty-five were the work of Branston, the others being by Swain and by G.A. Hanlon, the illustrator of Petrie’s Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland (1845).

Sources:
Susanna Avery-Quash, ‘Branston family’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/64204. Accessed 17.4.2018.
Rev. Henry Cotton, ‘Duncairn Printing Press, Belfast’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 2nd series, vol. 11, no. 2 (1905), 76. (Extract from A Typographical Gazeteer, pp. 62-63).
Dictionary of nineteenth-century journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Laurel Brake, Marysa Demoor, Margaret Beetham (Ghent: Academia Press, 2009).
William Cosmo Monkhouse, 'Branston, Allen Robert', Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 6 (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1886).
Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. 1 (1841).
Margaret Stokes’ Early Christian Architecture in Ireland (London: George Bell and Sons, 1878).
William Stokes, Life and Labours in Art and Archaeology of George Petrie (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1868).

Jane Conroy

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