Poynings Phtographers

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Photographers active in the area of Poynings and Devil's Dyke


[ABOVE] A Victorian map showing the South Downs lying north of New Shoreham, Kingston-By-Sea, Southwick, Hove, and Brighthelmstone (Brighton). The original map was published by David & Charles in 1813 in the Old Series of Ordnance Survey 'One Inch' Maps, but the map above is a composite using additional material taken from later surveys. For instance, the railway lines were added around 1854. This map was published in 1882, but still uses the name of 'Brighthelmstone' (as the town was known in 1812) rather than the name of 'Brighton', which was the name generally applied to the town by 1820.

At the top of the map, illustrated above, can be seen the village of Poynings, marked in red, and 'Devil's Dyke', shaded in green.

Poynings Village, 'Devil's Dyke' and Dyke House, as mentioned in the 1855 edition of the Post Office Directory of Sussex: "POYNINGS - In this village is situated that attractive chasm known as the DEVIL'S DYKE. On the summit of the lofty range of hills known as the South Downs, stands the well-known tavern the Dyke House, a place of resort for the lovers of beautiful scenery as well as pleasure-seeking parties from all parts of the world."

[ABOVE] A detail from the 1882 Ordnance Survey map illustrated on the left, showing the position of the village of Poynings (marked in red), lying north of Devil's Dyke (marked in green), the legendary beauty spot on the South Downs.

[ABOVE] A coloured Edwardian postcard showing "the bridle path at Devil's Dyke leading into Poynings."

[ABOVE] A coloured print showing sightseers enjoying themselves at Devil's Dyke (c. 1835). On the extreme left of the picture can be seen the The Devil's Dyke Tavern (also known as Dyke House).

[ABOVE] The entry for the village of Poynings in the 1858 edition of Melville's Directory & Gazetteer of Sussex.  In this publication 'Devil's Dyke' is described as "the most and only attractive spot" in the parish of Poynings. Melville's guide goes on to describe Devil's Dyke as "justly celebrated, on account of its wide range of lofty hills, commanding the  most extensive as well as the most beautiful Landscape scenes that it is possible to conceive." Melville's Directory adds that Devil's Dyke is "a constant resort, in the summer months, to the inhabitants of Brighton, as also to the numerous visitors to that fashionable marine town." 

William Thacker is listed as the proprietor of the 'Devil's Dyke Tavern'.

William Thacker and the 'Devil's Dyke' Tavern

William Thacker was born at Windsor, Berkshire, in 1810 or 1811. By the time he was in his early twenties, William Thacker was residing in Sussex. A trade directory published in 1834 records William Thacker as a 'carpenter' at New Road, Shoreham. In 1835, in the town of Shoreham, William Thacker married Mary Puttick (born 1806, New Shoreham, Sussex), the daughter of Susannah and John Puttick, a carpenter of New Shoreham.

In 1835, the year of his marriage, William Thacker, tenant of a nearby farm, became the proprietor of The Dyke House tavern at Devil's Dyke, near Poynings, Sussex. 'The Dyke House' had been built on the summit of the South Downs, overlooking the tourist attraction 'Devil's Dyke', by the Brighton builder George Cheesman (1791-1866) in 1831. When George Cheesman got into financial difficulties, 'Dyke House' was passed into the hands of William Thacker.

William Thacker was in charge of the tavern at 'Devil's Dyke' for the next 50 years (1835-1885). Over a period of half a century, Thatcher's business premises at 'Devil's Dyke' provided visitors with alcoholic beverages, luncheons, dinners and teas. Over this 50 year period, the building at 'Devil's Dyke' went under a variety of names - The Dyke House (from 1835 until 1852), the Devil's Dyke Tavern (1853-1870) and the Dyke Hotel (1871-1885). It appears that the original building was rebuilt and re-modelled as a hotel in 1871.

During his 43 year marriage to Mary Puttick (1806-1878), William Thacker fathered at least eight children, six of whom reached adulthood: William Dyke Thacker (1835-1874); John Thacker (1838-1882); Mary Elizabeth Carr Thacker [later Mrs William Buck] (1839-1888); Alice Henrietta Thacker [later Mrs Elisha Hatton] (1843-1883); Emily Thacker [later Mrs William Renner and Mrs Robert Pitt (1846-1897); Ambrose Horton Thacker (1848-1896).

It appears that William Thacker ended his association with The Dyke Hotel around 1885. On 21st May, 1885, William Thacker, described as a "wine merchant" of Devil's Dyke, was summoned to the Courthouse in Brighton for a bankruptcy examination hearing. When the census was taken in 1891, 80 year old William Thacker was described on the census return as a "Retired Hotel Keeper". At the time of the 1891 Census, William Thacker was living at 2 Hanover Terrace, Brighton, with Lillian Thacker (born c. 1856, Angmering, Sussex) who is described on the census return as William's 35 year old wife.

William Thacker died in Brighton in 1894 at the age of 83.

Charles Gillett - 'Photographer by Appointment' at 'Devil's Dyke' 

Charles Gillett was probably born at Blue Town, near Sheerness, Kent around 1838. At the time of the 1851 Census, 12 year old Charles Gillett was living on his own in Chelsea and working as an "errand boy".

In 1855, at Cirencester in Gloucestershire, Charles Gillett married Charlotte Weeks or Wicks (born c1839, Cirencester), a 16 year old servant girl. By 1857, the couple were in Bath, Somerset, where Charlotte Gillett gave birth to her first child Martha [birth registered in Bath during the 2nd Quarter of 1857]. A second child, Mathew Gillett, was born in Reading, Berkshire, in 1859 and another son, Henry Gillett was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, in 1861. When the 1861 census was taken, Charles and Charlotte Gillett and their three children were living in Broad Street, Portsmouth. On the census return, Charles Gillett is described as a twenty-three year old "Photographer". It appears that Charles Gillett was working as a travelling photographer. A son, named Charles after his father, was born around 1863 when the family were travelling through London. A fifth child, Joseph James Gillett, was born in Southampton, Hampshire, in 1865.

By 1868, Charles Gillett was working as a photographer in the Brighton area. Charles and Charlotte's second daughter, Ann Gillett, was born in Brighton in 1867 or 1868. It was around this time that Charles Gillett was offering his services as a portrait photographer to visitors at William Thacker's 'Devil's Dyke Tavern' situated near the village of Poynings. Two carte-de-visite photographs taken by Charles Gillett at 'Devil's Dyke' in 1868 or 1869 are shown on this webpage. The first photograph shows seven sightseers (4 women and 3 men) posing in front of the 'Devil's Dyke Tavern'. The second photograph features a young girl seated on a wall. Both photographs carry an advertisement for William Thacker's tavern at 'Devil's Dyke' and the printed credit "CHARLES GILLETT, PHOTOGRAPHER, BY APPOINTMENT".

By 1871, Charles Gillett and his family had moved on. Charles Gillett's wife and surviving children had returned to Reading, Berkshire, where the couple's first son had been born in 1859. For some reason, Charlotte and her four children were recorded in the 1871 census under the surname of 'Smith". Perhaps, Charles Gillett was avoiding his creditors by assuming a different surname. The boys Mathew Gillett and Henry Gillett had presumably died in infancy during their father's travels. Residing with Charlotte (Charles Gillett's wife) at 8 Starling Court, Reading, Berkshire, were Martha (aged 15), Charles junior (aged 8), Joseph (aged 6) and Ann (aged 3). Charles Gillett, the children's father was not at home and was presumably on his travels as an itinerant photographer.

The 1881 Census finds Charles Gillett and his family in Croydon, Surrey. On the census return, Charles Gillett gives his occupation as "Photographer". Twenty-three year old Martha Gillett, Charles Gillett's eldest daughter, is described as an "Artist", but his two sons, 17 year old Charles Gillett junior and 15 year old Joseph Gillett are both recorded as being employed as photographers, probably as assistants to their father.

By 1891, Charles Gillett, his wife Charlotte and their youngest son, twenty-six year old Joseph Gillett were residing in Kingston, Surrey. On the census return, Charles Gillett is described as an "Artist (employed)" and his son, Joseph Gillett, gives his occupation as "Photographer (employed)".

When the 1901 census was taken, Charles Gillett was once again living in Croydon, Surrey and working as a photographer. On the census return, Charles Gillett is recorded as a "Photographer (own account)" which indicates that he was now a self-employed photographer.

Charles Gillett died in Croydon, Surrey, in 1915. When his death was registered his age at death was given as 75, which would suggest a birth year of 1840, but in earlier documents he indicated that he had been born in Sheerness, Kent, either in 1837 or 1838.

[ABOVE] The Dyke House at Devil's Dyke, as depicted by the Brighton-based artist Frederick Earp (1827-1897) and published as a coloured lithographic print in 1846. The Dyke House was built as a small hotel in 1831 by George Cheesman (1791-1866), a well-known builder from Brighton. In 1835, Dyke House was occupied by William Thacker (c1811-1894) who eventually transformed the small hotel into the Devil's Dyke Tavern, an establishment which served "First-class drinks of all kinds" and "wines & liqueurs in great variety". The name "THACKER" can be seen inscribed above the porch entrance in this 1846 picture of The Dyke House (later known as the Devil's Dyke Tavern).

[ABOVE] An advertisement for William Thacker's Devil's Dyke Tavern, a printed notice which appeared on the reverse of photographs of the tavern's customers taken by Charles Gillett around 1869. William Thacker proclaimed in this advertisement, that he had been the proprietor of the Devil's Dyke Tavern (formerly 'The Dyke House') since 1835. Fifty years later, William Thacker was still the hotel landlord at Devil's Dyke. The Devil's Dyke Tavern had been re-modelled as The Dyke Hotel in 1871.

[ABOVE] A group of sightseers photographed outside the Devil's Dyke Tavern by Charles Gillett around the year 1869. A few years later, in 1871, the Devil's Dyke Tavern was rebuilt and became known as The Dyke Hotel.

1861 CENSUS: Broad Street, Portsmouth, Hampshire







Charles  Gillett




Sheerness, Kent

Charles Gillett was mainly a travelling photographer working in Portsmouth, London, Southampton, Brighton, Poynings (Sussex), Reading and Croydon.
Charlotte  Gillett wife 22  

Cirencester, Glos.

(1) Martha Gillett daughter 4  

Bath, Somerset

(2) Mathew Gillett son 2  

Reading, Berkshire

 died in London in 1863
(3) Henry Gillett son 2 months  

Portsmouth, Hants.

died in London in 1863
Over the next 7 years, Charlotte Gillett gave birth to 3 more children - Charles Gillett junior (born c.1863, London), Joseph James Gillett (born 1865, Southampton, Hants.) and Ann Gillett (born c1868, Brighton).
[ABOVE] Details of Charles Gillett and his family as given on the 1861 Census. Charles Gillett's two surviving sons, Charles Gillett junior (born c.1863, London) and Joseph Gillett (born 1865, Southampton, Hants.) both became professional photographers. Charles Gillett's eldest daughter, Martha Gillett (born 1857, Bath, Somerset) worked as an 'Artist'.

Photographic Portraits taken at Devil's Dyke by Charles Gillett

[ABOVE] Publicity for William Thacker's Dyke House Tavern as printed on the reverse of  cartes-de-visite portraits taken at Devil's Dyke by the  photographer  Charles Gillett  (c1869).

[ABOVE] A carte-de-visite photograph of a young girl taken by Charles Gillett, described as 'Photographer by Appointment' at Devil's Dyke on the reverse of the cdv portrait (c1869).

[ABOVE] A carte-de-visite photograph taken by Charles Gillett showing a group of tourists posing outside the Devil's Dyke Tavern (c1869).



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