Henry Negretti

An orrery or planetarium by Henry Negretti ca.1845. © Bonhams.
An orrery or planetarium by Henry Negretti ca.1845. © Bonhams.


NEGRETTI, Henry (Enrico Angelo Ludovico) (1818-1879) — London

Optical instrument maker & photographer. Produced an orrery or planetarium ca.1845. Known for barometers, thermometers, stereoscopic views, etc. Issued “A descriptive catalogue of chemical, philosophical, and photographic apparatus, etc. manufactured & sold by H. Negretti & Zambra, opticians, meteorological instrument makers, engine dividers, &c.” 1854, “Descriptive catalogue of stereoscopes and stereoscopic views manufactured and published by Negretti and Zambra” 1859, “Negretti & Zambra’s encyclopaedic, illustrated and descriptive reference catalogue of optical, mathematical, physical, photographic, and standard meteorological instruments, manufactured and sold by them” 1874, etc. Published “Treatise on meteorological instruments” 1864; “Practical photography on glass and paper” 1864; “The magic lantern, dissolving views, and oxy-hydrogen microscope, described: also directions for their use, with oil lamps, oxy-calcium and oxy-hydrogen light, and instructions for painting on glass” 1865, etc.

Born Enrico Angelo Ludovico Negretti in Como 13 Nov 1818, the son of Paolo Negretti (1785-1851) and his first wife, Costanza Corti. In London by the age of twelve, he learned his trade chiefly from Caesar Tagliabue (see BME 2011). Attended the London Mechanics Institute 1834-1835. By 1839 he was working for himself, initially as a glass-blower, but then moved into Angelo Tagliabue’s former workshop in Leather Lane, trading with Jane Pizzi as “Pizzi & Negretti” 1841-1843. Negretti married Mary Peet (1827-1895), the daughter of a well-to-do Islington warehouseman, with whom he had several children, at St. John the Evangelist, Islington, 1 Jul 1845. A brief partnership with Francis Ciceri of Brook Street as barometer and thermometer manufacturers was dissolved 10 Jul 1846. He then formed an enduring partnership with Joseph Warren Zambra (1822-1897) at 11 Hatton Garden in 1850. The new partners were the only London-based meteorological instrument-makers to win prize medals at the Great Exhibition in 1851, soon becoming Instrument Makers to the Queen, to the Royal Observatory, the British Meteorological Society, the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, etc. A series of wide-ranging patents were granted to the partners in the following years. Negretti was elected a fellow of the British Meteorological Society in 1855 and became a naturalised British subject 11 Apr 1862. By 1861, he and Zambra were employing twenty-nine men, thirteen boys, and three women.

Henry NegrettiThe partners were also pioneers of photography, sponsoring Francis Frith’s photographic expedition to Egypt and Pierre Rossier’s to China and Japan — producing the first commercial photographs of those countries. Among the instruments they made were some for the great aeronauts of the day, Henry Tracey Coxwell (1819-1900) and James Glaisher (1809-1903) — instruments for measuring the temperature, density, and humidity of the atmosphere at altitude — which Negretti would install and calibrate before take-off. In 1863, he himself became the first man to take aerial photographs from a balloon in flight, an entertaining account of which he sent to the press. Coxwell’s mammoth balloon, the car converted to a dark-room, was launched from the gas-works at Sydenham.  The photographs admittedly left “quelque chose à desirer” — in Negretti’s phrase — but “it had been demonstrated that photographic views can be taken at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 feet from the ground” (London Evening Standard,1 Jun 1863).

In 1854, Negretti had hosted the Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi on a visit to England, and he then took a major role in the reception committee for the hero’s triumphant tour of England in 1864. By now an acknowledged leader of the Italian community in London, well known for his charitable endeavours, it was largely due to Negretti’s efforts in taking on the authorities that justice was eventually achieved in the notorious Saffron Hill Murder case, and the wrongful conviction of an innocent young Italian eventually overturned. in 1865. King Victor Emmanuel “conferred on Signor Negretti the honourable title of Cavaliere, a distinction never more worthily deserved nor more gracefully bestowed” (Clerkenwell News, 4 Dec 1865). But the British authorities did not forgive, and a richly deserved British knighthood was never forthcoming. Having undertaken a great amount of travelling in his later years, Negretti died of pneumonia at his home in Cricklewood 24 Sep 1879 and was buried at Highgate Cemetery. Probate on an estate valued at close on £60,000 was granted jointly to his widow and his son and successor, Henry Paul Joseph Negretti (1851-1919). The firm of “Negretti & Zambra” was to survive for around 150 years, latterly as “Negretti & Zambra Aviation Ltd”.

2 Dorrington Street, Holborn — 1839-1840
— and 20 Greville Street, Holborn — 1839-1840
19 Leather Lane, Holborn — 1841-1850
— and 9 Hatton Garden, Holborn — 1849-1850
11 Hatton Garden, Holborn — 1850-1859
— 2 Grosvenor Villas, Junction Road, Upper Holloway (home) — 1854-1868
— and 68 Cornhill — 1857-1859
— and 59 Cornhill — 1859-1872
1 Hatton Garden, Holborn — 1859-1867
— or 107 Holborn Hill — 1859-1860
— and 122 Regent Street — 1861-1879
— and 153 Fleet Street — 1865-1873
38 Holborn Viaduct — 1869-1879
— and 2 Charterhouse Street — 1870-1879
— and 45 Cornhill — 1872-1879
— Cricklewood House, Kilburn Road, Cricklewood (home) — 1871-1879

BNA. Census 1841-1871. Clifton. Grace. LG. LHD. NA. ODNB. Taylor (1966).