Mentor & Co  - Brighton Studio



E. Mentor & Co. - Brighton Studio


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Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor (1861-1941) and William Hillmer (born c1849, Islington, London)


The photography firm of E. Mentor & Co., which operated a studio at 43A Ship Street, Brighton at the end of the nineteenth century and had branch studios in Barrow-in-Furness, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Cheltenham, Coventry, Kidderminster, Southsea, Wolverhampton and the Isle of Wight, had its origins in Southampton around 1891.

The studio name is derived from its founder Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor, who was born in Stepney, London in 1861 (birth registered during the June Quarter of 1861). Elizabeth Mentor's origins are obscure, but it appears that her parents were William John Mentor and Elizabeth Siret. ( Alan Booth has suggested that Elizabeth Mentor's father was possibly a member of the Mentor family which ran a coffee and cocoa roasting business in nineteenth century London ). Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor's mother died young and so Elizabeth and her younger sister, Harriet, went to live with their grandparents John and Zilpha Siret in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. John Siret (c1802-1876) was a boot and shoemaker who had ran a footwear business in Cheltenham since the late 1850s. Elizabeth Mentor went to school in Cheltenham and when the 1871 census was taken she was living in the same house as her cousin William J. Ferguson (born c1854, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire). William J. Ferguson was later to become an artist and photographer. At the time of the 1881 census, nineteen year old Elizabeth Mentor and her sister Harriet Zilpha Mentor (born c1863, Stepney, London) were living at Broxted House, Sandford Terrace, Cheltenham and working as assistant general housekeepers to their grandmother. Mrs Zilpha Siret (born c1811 Aynho, Northamptonshire). Elizabeth Mentor's grandmother, is entered on the census return as the Head of the Household and is described as a 70 year old widow, employed as a Housekeeper in domestic service. Also living at Broxted House was Mrs Siret's married daughter Mrs Zilpha Ferguson (born c1829, Northamptonshire), also described as a Housekeeper, and her husband William Henry Ferguson (born c1831, St Pancras,London), who gives his occupation as "Boot Manufacturer". William Henry Ferguson had previously been in business as a manufacturer of footwear with his father-in-law, John Siret, who had died in 1876. By 1881, William Henry Ferguson's son, William J. Ferguson, had married and was earning his living as an artist. In the 1881 census, William Ferguson junior is described as an " Artist & Teacher of Painting", aged 27.

By 1891, the firm of E. Mentor & Co. had established its first photographic studio at 9 Oxford Street, Southampton. At the time of the 1891 census, Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor was residing in the Southampton area, boarding at the house of Mrs Caroline Tyrell at 2 Bevois Hill Terrace, South Stoneham, a northern suburb of Southampton. Elizabeth Mentor is recorded in the 1891 census return as a single woman of twenty-eight, but no occupation or profession is mentioned. A carte-de-visite from the studio of E. Mentor & Co. at 9 Oxford Street, inscribed with the date "22nd June 1891", is evidence that the firm was operating in Southampton by the Summer of 1891. The studio of E. Mentor & Co. at 9 Oxford Street, Southampton, was in business continuously from 1891 to 1907. From around 1896, the firm expanded, establishing a number of branch studios in the South of England.


[RIGHT] A cabinet format portrait of two young women in national costume, photographed at the Southampton studio of  E. Mentor & Co.(c1899). At this time, the firm of E. Mentor & Co. had branch studios in Brighton and Bournemouth.



Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor and William Hillmer


Towards the end of 1894, Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor married a photographer named William Hillmer (born c1849, Islington, London). William Hillmer was the son of Eliza and William Hillmer, a civil servant. At the time of the 1871 census, twenty-two year old William Hillmer was working as a draper's apprentice and boarding with his employer Henry Taylor, a linen draper, at 6 High Street, Cheltenham. This means that both Elizabeth Mentor and William Hillmer were living in Cheltenham in the 1870s. On 9th September 1875, William Hillmer married Elizabeth Sarah Thorp at St John's Church, Penge, Surrey. A son named Walter William Hillmer was born in 1878, but he died in infancy. By 1891, William Hillmer was working as a photographer and was living in the Southampton area, residing in South Stoneham, the same district where Elizabeth Mentor was lodging at the time of the 1891 census. The 1891 census return records William Hillmer as a married man living at the home of his widowed mother, sixty-seven year old Mrs Eliza Hillmer, at 165 Alwyne Road, South Stoneham, Southampton. William Hillmer is described by the census enumerator as a "Photographer", aged 42. William Hillmer's wife Elizabeth died early in 1894, aged 38 (death registered in the district of Bromley during the March Quarter of 1894). Before the end of 1894, the recently widowed William Hillmer married Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor in the Aston district of Birmingham [marriage registered in the district of Aston during the December Quarter of 1894].

Around 1896, William Hillmer acquired the studio of Eugene De Fontaine at 43a Ship Street, Brighton. [Eugene De Fontaine was the pseudonym of William Henry Kessler (c1860-1929)]. Although William Hillmer was married to Elizabeth Mentor, initially the studio at 43a Ship Street, Brighton operated under the name of Hillmer & Co. rather than E. Mentor & Co.

E. Mentor & Co. the firm of photographers established by Elizabeth Mentor, William Hillmer's wife, expanded rapidly between 1896 and 1900. About 1897, E. Mentor & Co. opened a studio in Newport on the Isle of Wight. By 1898, two more studios carrying the name of E. Mentor & Co. had been established at Bournemouth and Southsea.( Mrs Zilpha Mentor, Elizabeth's grandmother died in 1898 at the age of 87 and this might have provided the firm with the funds to expand the business ). By 1899, William Hillmer's studio at 43a Ship Street, Brighton was carrying the name of E. Mentor & Co. That same year, E. Mentor & Co. were operating studios in Southampton, Bournemouth, Southsea, Cheltenham, and Wolverhampton. The year 1900 witnessed further E. Mentor & Co. studios opening in the Midlands area at Birmingham, Coventry and Kidderminster. The most northerly branch of E. Mentor & Co. was at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. In 1899, William Hillmer was running a photographic studio at 14 Bridge Road, Southampton, but this studio was also absorbed by Mentor & Co. around 1900.

When the 1901 census was taken on 31st March, William Hillmer and his wife Elizabeth Zilpha Hillmer (formerly Mentor) were residing at 85 Westridge Road in the Portswood area of Southampton. The couple had one child, a daughter named Dora Irene Hillmer, who had been born in Southampton in 1895. William Hillmer is described in the 1901 census return as a "Photographer (Employer)", aged 52. Mrs Hillmer's cousin, the photographer William Ferguson, was also living in Southampton in 1901. William Ferguson's first wife, Irene, had died in 1893 at the age of thirty-seven, leaving him with two children - Irene Mabel (born 1884, Cheltenham) and Alfred Ernest Ferguson (born 1888, Cheltenham). In 1895, William Ferguson married Helen Louisa Tyler (born 1869, Bristol), the daughter of Charlotte and George Tyler, a bank accountant of Cheltenham. William Ferguson was still living in Cheltenham in 1899, when his new wife was delivered of a daughter, Dorothy Winifred (birth registered in Cheltenham during the June Quarter of 1899). This might mean that William Ferguson, artist and photographer, was operating the Cheltenham branch of E. Mentor & Co. during this period.

William Hillmer and his wife Elizabeth Zilpha Hillmer (formerly Mentor) eventually set up home at The Chase, Winchester Road, Bassett, on the outskirts of Southampton. The main studio of E. Mentor & Co at 9 Oxford Street, Southampton was still listed in Kelly's Trade Directory of 1907.

The Hillmer Family eventually retired to the Isle of Wight, where Elizabeth Zilpha Hillmer (nee Mentor) died in 1941 at the age of 80.


[ABOVE] On the left is a carte-de-visite portrait from the studio of  W. Hillmer & Co. at 43A Ship Street, Brighton, dating from around 1898. When the photograph of the young man was produced around 1899, William Hillmer's Brighton studio had been acquired by the firm of  E. Mentor & Co.

[LEFT] The trade plate of  William Hillmer & Co. on the reverse of  a cabinet portrait taken at William Hillmer's studio at 43A Ship Street, Brighton around 1897. [RIGHT] A carte-de-visite portrait of a young woman by E. Mentor & Co., Photographers. The portrait dates from around 1899 when E. Mentor & Co. had branch studios in Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton, Southsea and Wolverhampton.


The Branch Studios of E. Mentor & Co. and W. Hillmer & Co.


[ABOVE] The reverse of a carte-de-visite produced by the firm of  E. Mentor & Co. around 1899, listing branches at Wolverhampton, Southsea, Southampton, Bournemouth and Brighton.




E. Mentor & Co.

9 Oxford Street  SOUTHAMPTON


  116 High Street, PORTSMOUTH


  14 High Street, NEWPORT, Isle of Wight  


  240 Old Christchurch Road  BOURNEMOUTH


  214 Old Christchurch Road  BOURNEMOUTH


W. Hillmer & Co. 43A Ship Street      BRIGHTON


  14 Bridge Road  SOUTHAMPTON


E. Mentor & Co. 43A Ship Street      BRIGHTON


  107 Fawcett Road    SOUTHSEA


  3 Bath Road  CHELTENHAM


  4 Bath Road  CHELTENHAM


  14 Bridge Road  SOUTHAMPTON


  Bilston Chambers, Snow Hill, WOLVERHAMPTON


  Bristol Chambers, Bilston Street, WOLVERHAMPTON


  Hood Street  COVENTRY


  28A Comberton Hill  KIDDERMINSTER


  108 Duke Street  BARROW-IN-FURNESS


  62 Soho Hill, Handsworth,   BIRMINGHAM


  213 Moseley Road, Highgate,   BIRMINGHAM


  Wooton Gardens  BOURNEMOUTH


[ABOVE] The reverse of a carte-de-visite produced by the firm of  E. Mentor & Co. around 1900, listing branches at Southampton, Bournemouth, Kidderminster, Handsworth and Birmingham.

Cabinet Photographs from the studios of W. Hillmer & Co. and  E. Mentor & Co

[ABOVE] A cabinet portrait of  a woman, photographed at William Hillmer's studio at 43A Ship Street, Brighton around 1897. Hillmer's studio in Brighton passed to E. Mentor & Co. the following year. [ABOVE] A cabinet portrait of  a married couple, photographed at E. Mentor''s studio at 43A Ship Street, Brighton around 1898. [ABOVE] A cabinet portrait of  a seated woman, photographed at E. Mentor & Co''s Southampton studio around 1901. At this time E. Mentor & Co. had branch studios at Bournemouth, Kidderminster and Birmingham.

To read an account of E. Mentor & Co.'s photographic activities in Southampton between 1890 and 1907 and to view examples of the photographic portraits produced at their Oxford Street studio in Southampton, please go to S. K. May's website on Southampton's Victorian and Edwardian Photographers at the following link:

E. Mentor & Co. of Southampton


Acknowledgements & Sources

Thanks to Alan Booth of Cheltenham for providing details of Elizabeth Zilpha Mentor's family history. Alan Booth's wife is related to the Mentor family. Thanks also to Raymond V. Turley who uncovered details about Elizabeth Mentor's life in the Southampton area. Raymond V. Turley is the author of a definitive study of the history of professional photographers based on the Isle of Wight, entitled "Isle of Wight Photographers - 1840-1940" [University of Southampton Libraries, 2001]. The information provided by Bonita Hillmer of Texas has also proved helpful. Other sources include the census returns for 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901, Brighton Trade Directories - including Towner's Directory of 1896 and Pike's Directories of 1896 and 1897, and the "Directory of Hampshire Photographers", compiled by Martin Norgate [Hampshire County Council, Museum Services, 1995]. The dated photographs by E. Mentor & Co. featured on Roger Vaughan's website "U.K. Carte-de-visite Victorian Photographs" and Frank Sharman's website "Early Photographic Studios in Wolverhampton" have also proved useful.


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