The Patons of Wooers’ Alley Cottage, Dunfermline

Dr Peter Blair and Cat Berry

This short article based on a fascinating early Dunfermline stereoview in my collection first appeared in Stereoscopy Blog.

Wooers’ Alley Cottage, Dunfermline, unidentified photographer, late 1850s

This late 1850s sequential stereoview shows a man in a stove pipe top hat and three women on a bench (and possibly a dog that has moved under the left of the bench) in the gardens of an elegant cottage. The rear identifies the location as Wooers’ Alley Cottage, Dunfermline.

Built in 1837 and demolished c. 1926, this was the home of the highly artistic Paton family.

Joseph Neil Paton, in the top hat, was a well respected damask designer at the time. Over seven hundred of his damask designs are still in the V&A collection. He was also a great collector of Scottish artefacts and opened his home at Wooers’ Alley to the public as a museum. Most of the collection is now in the National Museum of Scotland. The most famous exhibit was Robert the Bruce’s Toe Bone (more correctly his metatarsal) which is now in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

The three women in the picture are likely to be Joseph Neil Paton’s wife, Catherine, and his two daughters, Amelia (1821-1904) and Jemima. Alternatively, one of the women may be Ann Mitchell, the sister of Catherine, who lived with the Patons.

Magnified Image

Three of Joseph Neil Paton’s children became well known 19th century Scottish artists; Sir Joseph Noel Paton, Amelia Robertson Hill (née Paton) and Waller Hugh Paton. They were well connected in society, being friends with Andrew Carnegie, who had emigrated penniless from Dunfermline to America, where he managed to become the richest man in the world! Sir Joseph Noel Paton was Queen Victoria’s ‘Painter and Limner for Scotland’, the artists’ equivalent of poet laureate, and had important artistic links to the Pre-Raphaelite circle. He was best known for painting fairies as well as mythological and religious subjects, many of which are displayed in the major galleries around Scotland.

In 1862, Amelia (pictured), married family friend David Octavius Hill, an Edinburgh-based artist and one half of the famous early photography partnership, Hill & Adamson. She moved into the studio at Rock House, Calton Hill, Edinburgh. She was an accomplished sculptor, exhibiting over 60 works (including a bust of Sir David Brewster) and enjoying several public commissions. Despite her achievements, she was denied membership of the Royal Scottish Academy because of her gender, due to outdated Victorian attitudes towards women at the time. When her husband died in 1870, she sculpted his bust in bronze for his grave in Dean Cemetery, where she later joined him. Her work is the subject of a charming sculpture trail through Edinburgh.

There is a similar walking trail of the Paton family’s work around Dunfermline:

Following the death of Adamson in 1848, Hill mainly returned to painting, but he still continued his interest in photography, pairing up with Alexander McGlashon to exhibit at the Photographic Society of Scotland’s 1861 exhibition, and to publish, in 1862, an album of views entitled “Towards the Further Development of Fine Art Photography”.

It is therefore possible that this stereoview was taken by D.O. Hill, although no record of him working in the medium has yet been discovered. Alexander McGlashon, his photographic partner around the time that this photo was taken, was a renowned stereo-photographer and perhaps initiated Hill in the art.

A fascinating exhibition, ‘The Patons of Wooers’ Alley’, is running until 26th February 2023 at the Fire Station Creative arts centre in Dunfermline.


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