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A History of Professional Photography in Hailsham : 1860-1910

[ABOVE] HAILSHAM IN THE LATE 1870s OR EARLY 1880s. A photograph by Edwin Isaac Baker, showing Market Square where it leads into Hailsham's High Street. The building with the tall chimney (left of centre) is the beer-house kept by James Simmons (1814-1885). The figure walking in front of Simmons' beer-house appears as a blur because of the relatively long exposure time of the photograph. 

[PHOTO - Courtesy of Susan Guhm]

[ABOVE] A photograph of Hailsham's High Street, seen from Market Square. A photographic view by Edwin Isaac Baker, Bookseller and Photographer of High Street, Hailsham.

[PHOTO - Courtesy of Susan Guhm]

[ABOVE] A photograph of Alfred F. Smith's Ironmonger's shop in Hailsham's High Street, probably taken in the early 1890s. Alfred Fisher Smith, who stands in the doorway of his shop, was born in Rye in 1860. He worked as a "General & Furnishing Ironmonger" in Hailsham from around 1890 to 1915, selling a variety of metal goods, from iron stoves to electro-plated spoons and forks. Smith was also a dealer in new and second-hand furniture. The sign above the doorway reads "Ironmongery, & Furniture Warehouse." Like many tradesmen in Hailsham, Alfred Fisher Smith combined trades, also working as a locksmith, bell-hanger, and plumber.

[ABOVE] A postcard of Hailsham High Street from an original photograph by  E. & L. Chell of 64 & 65 High Street, Hailsham (c1905). When this photograph was taken, the printing and stationery business on the left was owned by Edgar Smith (born 1869, Highworth, Wilts.) but had previously been occupied by two photographers - Edwin Isaac Baker from 1868 until 1896 and Herbert John Unwin from 1896 to 1899.

[PHOTO - Courtesy of Rendell Williams of Sussex Postcards.Info.]

Hailsham - The town of Hailsham is situated seven miles north from Eastbourne. In the 19th century, Hailsham was primarily a market town and a centre for the manufacture of rope and twine. By 1807, Thomas Burfield had established a factory in Hailsham, making rope and twine, tarpaulin, corn and coal sacks and rick cloths. In the 1860s, the Green Family set up another factory manufacturing rope and twine. In 1881, Thomas Burfield junior was employing 110 persons at his rope factory, while the Green Brothers had a workforce of 114 men and 19 boys. In the 1890s, there were at least three factories in Hailsham manufacturing rope and twine. Not surprisingly, Hailsham became  known as "The String Town".

The growth of rope manufacture in Hailsham led to a steady increase in the town's population. In 1801 there were 807 people living in Hailsham. In 1831, the population had risen to 1,445 and when the census was taken in 1851, the number had reached 1,825. The 1861 census recorded 2098 people residing in Hailsham. The population then rose steadily, with an addition of roughly five hundred persons every ten years. In 1871, the figure was 2,429, the 1881 census counted 2,963 and the census of 1891 gave a total of 3,369.

Hailsham was a market town and the Sheep & Cattle Market, which was held once a fortnight on alternate Wednesdays, was recognised as one of the largest in the district.

Although Hailsham had a settled population which ranged between two thousand and three thousand, and was boosted by visitors to the regular market, the requirements of the town could not support a full-time professional photographer

When the Census for Hailsham was taken on 7th April 1861, the population of the town was made up of 2,098 individuals. Only one inhabitant, thirty-two year old James Lawrence, a "Photographic Artist" from East London, made his living from taking photographs. James Lawrence was lodging with sixty-four year old Mary Tutt in Hailsham's High Street and was probably an itinerant photographer who was working temporarily in the Hailsham area. A Sussex trade directory of 1862 lists nearly forty photographic studios in the county, but no photographer is recorded in Hailsham. Even the neighbouring seaside town of Eastbourne, with a population of around six thousand and a good number of regular seasonal visitors, could only support a couple of studios.

The mid 1860s witnessed a growing demand for carte-de-visite portraits, small and relatively cheap photographs on mounts the same size as regular visiting cards. Two tradesmen in Hailsham - Charles Hollamby, a boot and shoemaker, and Edwin Isaac Baker, a bookseller & stationer -  thought they could generate a supplementary income by setting up photographic portrait studios in their shops on the High Street. In addition to portraits in carte-de-visite and cabinet formats, Edwin Baker also photographed landscapes and street views of Hailsham.

Charles Hollamby retired from photography around 1882 and Edwin Baker left Hailsham for America in 1896. Edwin Baker's bookshop and stationery business in Hailsham's High Street was taken over by Herbert John Unwin who continued to take photographs in the town until he moved to Hereford around 1900. A married couple, Edwin & Lela Chell, established a photography business in Hailsham around 1898. Around 1905, the firm of E. & L. Chell set up a photographic studio at 64 & 65 High Street, Hailsham, which they operated until the First World War. As well as producing studio portraits in cabinet format, E. & L. Chell also produced street views which were published as picture postcards.


[ABOVE] A photograph of Hailsham's High Street, probably taken in the late 1870s. The light coloured building on the right is the chemist's shop of Charles Underwood Jenner (1831-1928). On the far left of the picture  is Edwin Isaac Baker's bookshop & stationery business. Around 1868, Edwin Isaac Baker, established a photographic studio on the upper floor of his business premises.

Charles Hollamby and Edwin Isaac Baker

Charles Hollamby (1817-1891) was a native of Hailsham and had been working as a shoemaker in the town since at least 1841. By 1859, Hollamby had established a boot and shoemaking business in the High Street of the town. Around 1865, Hollamby bought some photographic apparatus and in the 1866 edition of the Post Office Directory for Sussex, he is listed under the heading of Photographers in the Trades section. An advertisement in The Hailsham Commercial Advertiser of 1869 announced : " Charles Hollamby, Boot & Shoe Maker, High Street, Hailsham . PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITS TAKEN DAILY."

Within a couple of years, Hollamby had a rival in the photography business. Edwin Isaac Baker (1837-1912), ran a Bookshop and Stationers in Hailsham's High Street. Around 1868, Baker equipped a room above his bookshop for the purpose of taking carte-de-visite portraits. Customers could purchase a single copy for one shilling, but a dozen copies could be had for 5 shillings.

[ABOVE] The back and front of an early carte-de-visite portrait by Edwin Isaac Baker of High Street, Hailsham (c1868). The cdv portrait of the young girl carries the inscription "Sister Emma - aged 12 years".


[ABOVE] A page of advertisements from the 1869 edition of The Hailsham Almanac and Commercial Advertiser. Both of Hailsham's resident photographers - Charles Hollamby  and Edwin Isaac Baker are featured on this advertising sheet. Hailsham, with a population numbering less than two and a half thousand, could not supply enough business for a full-time professional photographer and both Hollamby and Baker had to rely on other sources of income. Charles Hollamby was a boot & shoe maker by trade and Edwin Baker sold books and stationery at his shop on the High Street.


Edwin Isaac Baker (1837-1912)

[ABOVE] The trade plate of Edwin Isaac Baker of  Hailsham which mentions his various occupations - "Photographer, Bookseller, Stationer & Librarian". Edwin Baker used this particular trade plate on the reverse of his carte-de-visite photographs during the early 1880s.
[ABOVE] Edwin Isaac Baker (1837-1912), the bookseller & stationer who became Hailsham's leading photographer.

Edwin Isaac Baker (1837-1912) was Hailsham's most prominent photographer between the years 1868 and 1896. Charles Hollamby, Baker's main competitor in the production of photographic portraits, was active as a photographer from 1866 to 1882, but surviving examples of his work are rare. In addition to portraits, Edwin Baker photographed views around Hailsham, and made a photographic record of many of the buildings in the town. Many Hailsham buildings were captured by Edwin Baker's camera over a period of twenty-eight years, including Robert Overy's Hailsham Brewery, Summerfields House, The Baptist Chapel and Yew Tree House.


[LEFT] Edwin Isaac Baker's Bookshop in Hailsham's High Street. The sign on the shop-front reads : "Bookseller, Stationer and Circulating Library". This photograph was taken by Edwin Baker when the High Street was covered in snow. Edwin Baker, who described himself as "Bookseller, Stationer and Photographer", took photographic portraits in a studio on the upper floor of the bookshop from 1868 to 1896.

[PHOTO - Courtesy of Susan Guhm]

[ABOVE] Cabinet portrait of a Young Woman by  E. & L. Chell of 64 & 65 High Street, Hailsham.

[Photograph courtesy of Neil Kennett]

[ABOVE] Cabinet portrait of a young woman, photographed at the studio of  Edwin & Lela Chell at 64 & 65 High Street, Hailsham (c1908).

Edwin Chell (c1851-1927) was the son of a Staffordshire farmer. In 1893, when he was in his early forties, Edwin Chell married 22 year old Lela Constance Godfrey (1870-1937). After a period in Hampshire, the couple moved to Hailsham around 1897. Shortly after their arrival in Hailsham, Edwin Chell and his wife Lela Chell began taking photographic portraits in the town.

Hailsham Photographers from 1896 to 1910

[ABOVE] A badly stained advertisement for H. J. Unwin, Bookseller, Stationer and Librarian, who had taken over Edwin Isaac Baker's business in 1897. Herbert John Unwin, like his predecessor, operated a photographic studio on the bookshop premises. Unwin later became a professional photographer in Hereford. ( Advertisement for H. J. Unwin taken from Sumfield's Hailsham Almanac and Directory for 1898).

Herbert John Unwin

Edwin Isaac Baker emigrated to the United States at the end of 1896. His bookshop and photographic studio was acquired by 23 year old Herbert John Unwin from Folkestone, Kent. Herbert Unwin ran the photographic studio at the Hailsham  bookshop ( then called "The Library") for only a couple of years. By 1901, Herbert Unwin was working as a photographer in Hereford.

[ABOVE] A cabinet card photograph produced by Herbert J. Unwin depicting his bookshop and stationery business in the High Street of Hailsham in 1897. Herbert John Unwin had just taken over

Photograph from the Collection of  John Gasson

Edwin & Lela Chell 

The gap in the photography market left by the departure of Herbert J.Unwin was immediately filled by the husband and wife team of Edwin & Lela Chell, who had been taking photographs at 9 Alexander Terrace, Hailsham since about 1898. Like other Hailsham photographers, Edwin Chell could not, at first, earn a living by photography alone. In the 1901 census, Edwin Chell gave his main occupation as "Insurance Agent". However, before 1905, Edwin and Lela Chell set up a photographic studio at 64 & 65 High Street, Hailsham. During the years 1905-1910, E. & L. Chell were producing studio portraits in the cabinet card format at their High Street studio, yet during the same period their photographic views of Hailsham were published as picture postcards.

When the census was taken on 2nd April 1911, Edwin and Lela Chell were recorded at 64 High Street, Hailsham. On the census form, Edwin Chell gives his personal occupation as "Photographer & Dairyman", while his wife Lela Chell states she was "Assisting in the business". There is evidence that Edwin & Lela Chell were still producing photographs in Hailsham up until the First World War.

From around 1905, E. & L. Chell were issuing their photographs as picture postcards. Picture postcards of Hailsham were also being produced by Edgar Smith (born 1869, Highworth, Wilts.), a printer & stationer who worked from 21 High Street, Hailsham, the same building where Edwin Isaac Baker and Herbert John Unwin had previously operated photographic studios,
To view a selection of postcards produced by  Edwin & Lela Chell visit the gallery on Rendell Williams' Sussex Postcards.Info website via the following link:

 Postcards by E. &. L. Chell of Hailsham

Click here to go to Directory of Photographic Studios in Hailsham 1860-1910

Click here to go to Notes & Examples of Professional Photographers in Hailsham

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