This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the craze for beach photography.
He writes: The early years of the 20th Century, at least in Hastings, were the heyday of the ‘beach photographer’ and innumerable examples of beach photographs are know to exist, many of them well-handled but not posted.
Who were they, those people in the fading photographs? They may have been ‘day-trippers’ arriving by train to the nearby Hastings Station or, later, in the 1920’s in charabancs.
Had the fashion for photographing small posed crowds on the beach not died a natural death in the 1930’s the war would have finished it off anyway because seaside visits were actively discouraged.
It is of course possible that the photographer would simply gather together an unrelated crowd of people, photograph them, and then offer the resulting postcards for sale to anyone who was interested. The content of the photographs is always interesting, literally a ‘snapshot’ of clothing fashion and style at the time and the backgrounds show just how close the beach was to the front-line buildings before Sidney Little built his promenades in the 1930’s.
Bathing costume style illustrates the evolution from segregated bathing and male nudity contrasting with complete female cover up in Victorian times to torso-covering knitted ‘bathing suits’ for both sexes up to the 1930’s, swimwear which defenders of public morality noted ‘clung lewdly to the female form’. By the inter-war period bathing machines had disappeared from the scene.
Beach photographers usually identified the individual photographs for their own administration by including small placards or blackboards within the pictures advertising themselves and including some sort of reference.
The images were finally released as postcard-sized photographic paper that included a ‘postcard back’ already printed. The photos had to be ready for collection by the subjects within a short time of the pictures being taken –Willmett and Allworks, whose activities appear to have been confined to 1919, and were possibly connected with W J Wilmett operating from 14 Pelham Crescent from 1910, tell us that the post cards would be ‘on sale the following day’ and the same was probably true for A M Breach, (from the Old Town fishing family of the same surname), who traded from various addresses in White Rock between 1897 and 1922 and his ‘pitch’ seems to have been where the promenade ‘stepped out’ for the White Rock Baths and was later built over by Sidney Little with his seafront extensions of the 1930’s.
Then there was William Weeks Pearson of ‘Pearsons Popular Postcards’ fame, he was another prolific beach photographer and lived and worked from around 1905 at 30 Vicarage Road and later 22 Whitefriars Road on the West Hill. As an ‘outdoor’ photographer he preferred not to use a studio, and it’s most likely that his negatives would have been taken home for development of the prints overnight.
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, www.historichastings.co.uk or contact him - email@example.com. And there’s more about Robert Tressell on www.1066.net/tressell.
An uncredited image simply identified with a no 145. Notice the little girl in the centre, a magnifying glass reveals her bandolier made of wine-bottle corks sewn to a fabric backing – an early flotation aid? Hastings pier in the background shows the far end Pavilion destroyed in the 1917 fire has not yet been rebuilt.
A M Breach’s Public Group 1926.
Posted 17th August 1926, A M Breach was no longer including an indicator on the front of the photograph. The back of the card tells us that he was at 40 Havelock Road at this time. Notice the cloche hats typical of the era and it appears that the photographer couldn’t include all of the ‘crowd’.
A M Breach’s Public Group 195.
A M Breach’s ‘No. 195 Public Group’ shows, in the background, the roof of a covered charabanc but with over 40 folk in the picture they would not have all fitted in it, so it may have nothing to do with the picture. The soldier, top left, suggests that the photograph could have been taken around 1919.
Having a good time at Hastings 22.
Breach’s ‘Having a Good Time at HASTINGS No 22’ is undated, but if it’s later than 1922 his studio would have been at 72 Cambridge Road, and he seems to have ceased trading in the 1930’s. The Palace Hotel can be seen in the background. Is that a charabanc driver peering over the wall on the right?
Having a good time at Hastings 249.
The photographer seems to have taken this picture in a hurry because not everyone was included! The Palace Hotel is in the background.
Having a good time at Hastings 3351.
Note the little group on the left – clearly not part of the main picture but the boy can’t help peering at the photographer. A note on the back of the card tells us “September 21st 1920, Ronnie aged 6 months” – that must be little Ronnie in the arms of the woman in the hat on the right of the second row.
Peace at Hastings 1919.
A M Breach’s picture, Peace at Hastings 1919, away from his usual pitch is clearly identifiable as being opposite the end of Robertson Street, The image is interesting for several reasons, it’s not a run-of-the mill beach photo, it was probably a family, a local group who went to Breach’s studio at 37a White Rock,(just out of shot to the left of the group,) specifically to have the group photo taken and were posed outdoors. Was the picture taken to celebrate the safe return of the two young soldiers shown lounging in the front row? Another thing to notice is, to the right of the group, the ladders to the top floor of a house in Caroline Parade. Ten years earlier Robert Tressell, in his ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ had highlighted the fatal dangers of these ladders, no Health and Safety then! This card has been posted, on the 8th July 1919 to Lieut. H C Burberry, 130 Chinese Labour Company, LEF, France – is anything known about 130 Chinese Labour Company?
Pearson June 23 no 2.
Pearson’s “June 23 No 2”, taken to the east of the original White Rock Baths, shows children ready kitted-out with buckets and spades, ready for the seaside and in the background a Punch-and-Judy show is taking place
Uncredited is the picture with Hastings Pier, (with the pavilion burned down in 1917 still not replaced) in the background and the coconut fibre runner to aid walking down to the sea. Some of the younger members have clearly been swimming – their all-encompassing swimwear is clearly wet and the headwear looks like shower caps of later years.
Another uncredited photo, probably taken in the 1920’s Has the Queens Hotel clearly visible in the background complete with its towers and, on the right, are the buildings including ‘Gordon House’ that were later to fall victim to air raids.The area in which they are all posing is now covered by Sidney Little’s Promenade
Weeks-Pearson No 1.jpg.
Marked on the front 4/8/16. the image has had to be rotated through 5 degrees to make the pier seem level! The photographer had focussed on the subjects which tilted the horizon and the pier. Note the torso-covering swimsuits and bathing caps.
Willmett and Allworks.
Posted 19th April 1919 with a very untidy background, were these ‘props’ to be included and what is the function of the man in the booth in the background – was he renting out swimming suits? The picture was probably taken against the bastion projecting from the pre-Sidney Little promenade just west of the pier. Notice the men in uniform, one of which appears to have an eye patch.
Willmett and Allworks a.
Enlargement of the sign in the Wilmett and Allworks picture tells us that they were based at 2, Pier Approach, Hastings and that Photographs could be taken of private groups for 3/6 (17½ p) for 2 or ‘bathing and public groups post cards’ for 3d (1p) at any time and would be on sale the following day.