Photos reveal an expanding town

Hepworth 5 SUS-150307-095600001
Hepworth 5 SUS-150307-095600001

This week Ion Castro takes a look at how a Yorkshire born printer based in London and Tunbridge Wells provided an insight to an expanding Hastings and St Leonards in 1900.

He writes: This Lewis Hepworth & Co publication, of 48 pages within a card cover measured 280mm x 215mm (11in x 8.5in) and was undated as most were at that time, but appears to have been published in 1900. The 1891 census indicates 58,546 inhabitants and this was to grow to 60,264 by 1901.

With its fine large houses, pleasing climate and easy reach of London by three separate railways it was what we would call today a destination of choice for the wealthier classes and it was inevitable that out-of-town publishers would leap in to try to cash in on the Guide Book bonanza around the turn of the century before it was washed away by the flood of post-card publishers in the first decade of the 20th century.

But who was Lewis Hepworth? He was born in Yorkshire in 1852 and the 1881 census finds him living in Frant, Sussex where his occupation is described as “printer stationer and bookbinder”

In 1878 Lewis had acquired the firm of Stidolph & Bellamy in Tunbridge Wells who had started business as printers in the 1860s and in 1890 they were to move into larger, new premises, which Lewis himself had designed, at 10 Vale Road Tunbridge Wells. At the new works, with his staff of forty, the company produced some of the best lithographic art and colour printing in the country at that time and the business was to continue as a family concern until its ultimate demise in 1968 when offset-litho replaced letterpress as the method of producing commercial printing.

We are told that Lewis’s photo books of towns manufactured to his own designs were in constant demand in London and elsewhere.

There are captions below all the photographs which include the sort of local views that were popular at the time but business premises are also featured, not just local ones - hotels in Tunbridge Wells, Yarmouth and Norwich were featured as well as Chatham House College in Ramsgate and our own Highbury House School in Bohemia Road that has appeared in other contemporary local guides. As would be expected, places of interest in the surrounding area, such as Ashburnham, Battle, Rye, Winchelsea and even Hawkhurst were included.

The images show Denmark Place in the summer season where the caption reads: “The boatmen, as a general rule, are a very civil body, although they may at times be persistent in declaring that the atmospheric conditions render the day perfect for a trip on the briny.”

Also show is The` Hastings and St. Leonards and East Sussex Hospital, which was founded in 1836. It shows the Old Town 60 years before the The Bourne cut it in two.

The picture of ‘A rough day at St Leonards’ shows a particularly high tide. Another image shows ‘White Rock Palace’.

Chas Frowd’s Dairy would have been on the corner of Westen Road and Terrace Road. The site is now occupied by Southern Water. Hallett & Son was a good example of a Victorian Jeweller’s shop in Robertson Street and W Skillings was further up Robertson Street.

White & Norton had previously been Rock & Co’s Carriage Works with its carriage lift up the cliff face to their mews at Prospect Place. The upper part of the building is still identifiable today but has been painted white.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion’s own collection and there’s more local history on his website,

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