Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 20, 2018
Webpage updated: April 01, 2020




One of the more unusual objects that used to stand on Plymouth Hoe was the Camera Obscura, pictured below.   It stood on top of what is now the Belvedere.

This early photograph of Plymouth Hoe shows the location of the Camera Obscurer.
National Monuments Record from an old postcard.

By means of the camera in the top, it was possible to exhibit  a full-colour image of Plymouth Sound on to a white surface inside the darkened room below.   The white surface in this case is understood to have been a table or table-cloth.   The image would have been reversed, of course, so it had to be corrected by a lens further down.

The Camera Obscura that once stood upon Plymouth Hoe.

The Camera Obscura on Plymouth Hoe,
with the lady owner sat by the door and the Hoe Constable stood on the left.

The Camera Obscura was the creation of a 'machanist' by the name of Mr William Sampson and was first installed on Plymouth Hoe in the summer of 1827.  It re-opened at the same spot on or about May 21st 1828, with a Mr Mark selling tickets on site or season tickets could be obtained from Mr Sampson himself at number 1 Westwell Street.  It was open from 9am until 7pm on every fine day. 

It was destroyed during the violent gales of Thursday November 12th and Friday November 13th 1840 and that was apparently the third time it had suffered such a fate.  On November 17th that year Mr Sampson launched an appeal for funds to rebuild the Obscura and on July 8th 1841 he announced that a new camera had been fixed and would be open to viewing from 9am until 6pm.

After the death of her father, Miss Elizabeth Sampson took over running the Camera.  In 1888 she was entirely dependent upon the income from admissions to the Obscura and from allowing advertising boards to be placed around the outside.  The Council proposed to persuade Miss Sampson to give up ownership of the Obscura by paying her an eight shilling per week pension for life.   Unfortunately for her, but luckily for the Corporation, she died in 1890 at the age of 73.  The Camera Obscura was demolished in 1889 during improvements to the Hoe, part of which involved turning what then been known as the Corporation Seat in to the present Belvedere.