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  • King's Lynn From Old Photographs by Robert Pols

    King’s Lynn – Putting Names to the Legacy

    Amy Purdy took a risk when using volatile flash powder to illuminate the gloom of the Clifton House vault. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    My recently-published King’s Lynn from Old Photographs is not the first book to offer an early pictorial record of the town, and I don’t suppose it will be the last. Lynn’s rich past is still evident to any resident or visitor prepared to explore a little further afield than the town-centre shops, and a wealth of photographs has survived from that past. There really is room for a number of books investigating the borough’s heritage through pictures. Any one book, however, needs to have its own identity and character. The writer will, naturally, want it to be a bit different from the others, and when I started to explore the pictorial possibilities for King’s Lynn from Old Photographs, I knew what I wanted that difference to be.

    Books of old photographs routinely comment on what the illustrations show. They also, quite rightly, give credit to those who have allowed images from their collections to be reproduced. There is often, however, something missing: credit is rarely given to the people who took the photographs, and that has always seemed to me a great pity. Often, of course, the photographs (particularly those on postcards) are anonymous. Many, though, can be attributed, and I was anxious, whenever I could, to use attributable photographs in the book. Where possible, I was also keen to say a little about those photographers – about their careers, about the way they marketed themselves, and about the practical problems they faced when they took their cameras away from the studio and out into the field. Clearly the book was not the place for any lengthy discussion of these pioneers and their working lives, but some passing glimpses into their world seemed justified.

     

     

    A Lynn amateur photographer records the genteel custom of taking tea in the garden. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    To strengthen the books attention to those who created its images, I suggested – and Amberley agreed to – chapters devoted specifically to their studio and out-of-studio work. I’m not sure how often one can expect the publisher of an established and successful series to humour authorial whims, but it’s certainly a humouring for which I’m grateful, and I believe it has helped create a distinctive character for the book.

    The focus on photographers has been reinforced in two other ways. One of these is the use of images from a collection of glass negatives by an early Edwardian amateur photographer from the town. His name remains undiscovered, but his pictures allow us to meet his wife and family, show us a privileged way of life, and give an insight into the pleasures of what was, for those who could afford it, a golden age. Since his curiosity also took him beyond house and garden, his pictures make a telling contribution too, to the record of local places and events.

    The second boost comes in the form of words rather than pictures. From 1898 to 1900 James Speight, a young member of a Rugby family of photographers, worked as assistant to Lynn photographer Jasper Wright, and James kept a diary. Some of the entries deal with studio life, but his social life and events in the town are also reflected, and it is these latter aspects of the diary that have been used in the books captions to illuminate such diverse topics as modern traffic, fires as a spectator sport, public interest in the Boer War and the pleasures of dressing up.

     

    No name appears on this postcard of the Bentinck Dock, but the caption’s distinctive handwriting points firmly to ‘The Don’. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    In a variety of ways, therefore, I have been able to place some emphasis on King’s Lynn’s photographers, and I am indebted to Amberley for allowing me to indulge this enthusiasm. The final total of attributed images in the book is comfortably over 60 per cent. I’d like to have reached a higher percentage, but many of the illustrations derive from postcards, and a very high proportion of postcards was published anonymously. Indeed, some of the attributed postcards in this book have been rescued from anonymity only by captions in recognisable handwriting.

    The overall result is, I hope, a book that not only provides a snapshot of King’s Lynn in Victorian and Edwardian times (and sometimes a little later), but that also goes some way towards celebrating the men and women who have given us such a varied and vivid view of the town’s past.

    Robert Pols' new book King's Lynn From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Saltdean From Old Photographs by Douglas d'Enno

    This postcard shows how Saltdean Bay would have looked early in the twentieth century. The only dwellings are the coastguard cottages put up in 1834. Sadly, the sea claimed four young lives here on 4 August 1912. All the boys were members of the Gonville and Caius College Mission, Battersea, and were camped at the time nearby Rottingdean. (Saltdean From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m a local author and it has been 33 years since I wrote my comprehensive history of Saltdean. Long out of print, the book is hard to find and can command a high price. Fortunately, I have continued to build up my collection of cuttings, articles and photographs of the area and have presented the finest images from my collection in my new book, Saltdean from Old Photographs. The pictures displayed number some 240 and, despite the title of the book, some carefully selected very recent images have also been included.

    This fascinating volume has been structured to reflect the development of this seaside suburb over the last century, with the emphasis, not unexpectedly, on the inter-war years. In the earlier part of the book, there is a brief pictorial survey of Saltdean as a remote and sometimes forbidding location. This corner of Sussex has been a graveyard of ships down the years while the desolate foreshore was attractive to smugglers. As in more recent times, swimming was enjoyed by occasional visitors although the year 1912 saw the tragic drowning or four young men from a Mission Church in Battersea. Inland, hunting was enjoyed, as was target practice by members of Rudyard Kipling's Rifle Club.

    When resident in Rottinghdean from 1897 to 1902, Rudyard Kipling founded the village rifle club, believing it to be in the national interest that young men should learn to be competent shots. It was established during 'Black Week' in December 1899, when the British Army suffered many casualties in the Second Anglo-Boer War. The club was registered with the National Rifle Association in 1900 and was listed as having fifty-eight members. (Saltdean From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    For centuries, the land was farmed from Rottingdean. Indeed, the handful of buildings in the area other than coastguard dwellings were a couple of stone cottages and three barns, two of which have survived following skilful conversion into a nursery school and a private dwelling respectively.

    One page rightly focuses on the founder of Peacehaven and Saltdean as we know them today, namely Charles Neville. Interesting new information has come to light concerning his family and commercial activities. It was through his entrepreneurial drive that the two buildings for which Saltdean is best known, namely the Lido and Ocean Hotel, came into being. Of course virtually all the residential development in the area was the work of his hand.

    In one section, the spotlight is cast on the war years, when both those buildings were put to good use.

    In the decades which followed, the community now familiar to us gradually developed. A number of dramatic images also depict events in this area, such as the overwhelming snowfall in 1966 and the damage wrought by the Great Gale of 1987.

    Celebrities are also rightly included; among their number were George Robey, Max Wall, Will Fyffe and GH Elliott. A surprising story is the death (almost certainly suicide) in Nutley Avenue of the ex-Duchess of Leinster in the 1930s.

    The book ends on an optimistic note, with the restoration – for the second time – of the downland memorial Harvey's Cross in July of this year. From its beautiful location, much of West Saltdean, with the sea beyond, can be seen.

    Douglas d'Enno's new book Saltdean From Old Photographs is avialable for purchase now.

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