Beached whales and local legends captured by early photographer

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This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a deeper look at the work of early Hastings photographer F S Mann.

He writes: We have seen examples of the work of prolific and locally well-known photographer Frederick Stephen Mann (F S Mann) who was born around 1822 in Frant, a small Sussex village near the border with Kent but who had moved to Hastings.

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The 1861 national census confirms that Frederick S. Mann, Elizabeth S. Mann and no children were at 13 Wellington Place. Mann was described as a “Carver & Gilder”.

These premises gradually evolved into a Photographic Depot which sold an “assortment of local photographic views” and an advertisement, published in 1858, reports that F. S. Mann was able to supply “a great variety of first class photographic and stereographic views of Hastings and St Leonards and surrounding neighbourhood”.

What is not clear is whether these photographic views were Mann’s own work or the work of other professional photographers based in the area collaborating with Mann.

He did eventually emerge as a professional photographer in his own right and it is possible these early “first class photographic and stereographic views” were Mann’s own work.

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The ‘photographic portrait studio’ at his business premises at 13 Wellington Place seems to date from 1863 and had established a reputation as a prolific producer of stereoscopic views of Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea.

By 1870 Mann, had his stereoscopic cards carrying the credit “F. S. MANN, PHOTO., 13, WELLINGTON PLACE, HASTINGS”.

The 1871 census records that Frederick Stephen Mann and his wife were still residing in the living quarters attached to Mann’s business premises at that address and 49 year old ‘Fredk S. Mann’ is listed as a “Carver, Gilder & Stationer”.

After 1880, Frederick Stephen Mann worked mainly as a “carver & gilder” and picture-frame maker at his Wellington Place workshop, taking the occasional photographic portrait at the studio attached to his premises. The 1881 census records him as a “Carver & Gilder”.

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Mann continued to trade from Wellington Place, until his retirement around 1892 when he relinquished his picture framing business but continued to take portraits and local views.

Frederick Stephen Mann died in Hastings in 1904 at the age of 82 and the images shown here are the left or right hand halves of the stereoscopic pairs of views for which Mann was well-known.

Mann’s fame as a photographer has spread beyond Hastings and examples of his work are included in the Getty Art Collection in New York and in the National Trust’s Fox Talbot Museum in Wiltshire.

Examples of his work show he did not confine himself to his studio and travelled around the local area, as far afield as Norman’s Bay near Pevensey where, in November 1865, he journeyed, probably by train, to capture images of a dead finback whale that had been washed up on the shingle.

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The carcass was later stripped of its flesh and the skeleton is believed to be the largest skeleton of a finback whale on display in the world, measuring around 70 feet (21.3m) from nose to tail and weighing around two tonnes. The carcass was moved from the beach to a nearby cricket field where an estimated 40,000 people came to see it, so many that a small station was even built to cater for visitors arriving by rail but we don’t know if this station was in place when Mann arrived.

This whale is the ‘Pevensey whale’ now residing in the Museum of Zoology, in Cambridge which acquired it in 1866 and it has been on almost uninterrupted display there since 1896. How Mann usually transported his cumbersome equipment around the local area in the days before the ‘works van’ is not recorded.

Judging by the number and variety of images featuring All Saints Church, only a few of which are shown here, Mann seems to have had an affection for the building which may date from the days he was starting out in his photographic career at No 33 All Saints Street in the 1840’s and 50’s.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, or contact him -


All Saints Interior.

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Pictured in the 1870s this picture of the interior of All Saints Church was taken shortly after restoration had revealed the medieval ‘Doom Painting’ above the chancel arch.

Beauport House.

Built by General Murray, victor of the Battle of Quebec, and named after the Manor House of Beauport, near Quebec, which had been Montcalm’s headquarters before the battle of the Heights of Abraham. It was later the residence of Sir Archibald Lamb and in 1861 Thomas Brassey junior moved in before the building became the Beauport Park Hotel. In 1923 it was rebuilt following a serious fire.

Church in the Wood.

Pictured a short while after the ‘restoration’ of the 1860’s, the size of the porch has been considerably increased and extra windows have been added.

East Cliff.

This image from the 1860’s shows the caves above Rock-a-Nore which were for some decades inhabited by the Butler family and their tame animals. In 1843 Ross described them as “a family Robinson Crusoe, for as such we may fairly designate them, and fear not that all who visit them will be gratified, and seeing their mode of life and the penchant they have for animals, will agree that they are rightly named.”

As late as the 1960’s these caves were occupied by beatniks until sealed by Hastings Council.

Hastings Cemetery.

Dating from the 1870’s this image shows the gates of Hastings Cemetery on The Ridge, with a post box built into one of the pillars and the original mortuary chapel as the main feature.

Old Humphrey.

Mann captured this image of “Old Humphrey’s” last resting place. Buried in All Saints churchyard is George Mogridge, born 17 February 1787 in Ashted, Birmingham, the son of a canal agent. His grandfather, Anthony Mogridge, was the Vicar of Kimbolton, Worcestershire. His Uncle, John Phillips, was also a vicar, so the family had strong religious tendencies which were to influence many of George’s later writings.

He was a prolific 19th century writer, poet and author of children’s books and religious tracts. He is better known by his pseudonym of ‘Old Humphrey’, under which name he published 46 works, but also used the pen-names ‘Jeremy Jaunt’, ‘Ephraim Holding’, ‘Peter Parley’ and ‘Old Father Thames’.

He wrote approximately 200 published works, many of which are still in print today, and at the time of his death it was estimated that over 15 million copies of his writings were in circulation. He died at No. 4, High Wickham, Hastings on 3rd November 1854 and Old Humphrey Avenue, was named after him. The avenue was built on the site of ‘Hastings House’, occupied in by the Duke of Wellington in 1806 and in 1814 by Lord Byron, the Duchess of Leeds later used it as a Roman Catholic School before it was pulled down in the 1870’s. To the right of Old Humphrey’s tombstone is that of the Rev Henry Philip Francis who had died in 1856 aged 26.

The Battery.

Probably dating from the 1860’s, and showing the cliffs beyond Rock-a-Nore, the main feature is the gun battery that was stationed there after the original battery – the gun platform for coastal protection purposes located roughly opposite where the Boating Lake is today. Having survived the great storms of January 1792 and November 1824 it was badly undermined by a storm in 1842 after which it was given to the Corporation who pulled it down to extend the Parade.

The Rock-a-Nore Battery was operated by The Cinque Ports Volunteers Corps who were formed in 1859/60 later including artillery in their activities and leasing the piece of ground against the Rock-a-Nore groyne from the corporation and building themselves a drill-hall which was demolished mid 1980’s and is now the site of the Blue reef Aquarium.


Casual tourists may have believed that this 1865 stereo showed a whale that had been washed up in Hastings but it had in fact come ashore near Pevensey and it’s skeleton is now in Cambridge Zoological Museum.

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