Harold Camburn – and Lancing a century ago

The people of Worthing owe a particular debt to the Tunbridge Wells-based photographer and publisher Harold Camburn, because – with the possible exception of the small local firm of Edwards & Son – he published more postcard views of the Worthing area than any other postcard publisher.

Saturday, 28th February 2015, 12:00 pm
The best surviving photograph of Harold Camburn, taken on Salvington Hill in 1910 or 1911. He probably took it himself, using a delayed-action shutter release

But not only was Camburn prolific. He was also a very gifted photographer.

In addition, all his local-view cards were produced on good-quality photographic paper.

The images on these so-called ‘Real Photograph’ postcards were crisper and clearer than those on the printed cards that the large firms generally published.

The best surviving photograph of Harold Camburn, taken on Salvington Hill in 1910 or 1911. He probably took it himself, using a delayed-action shutter release

Camburn’s postcards are immediately recognisable from the “handwritten” captions at the bottom; and all but his very early cards have his Wells Series trademark on the back, with its familiar logo of well-head and rope.

Several Camburn cards have appeared in earlier articles in this series, not least the fine photograph of Worthing Belle that appeared on the front cover of Looking Back on January 22.

This article – the first in a series of three about Camburn’s postcards of the Worthing area – focuses on his scenes of Lancing. But we begin with a brief account of Camburn’s life.

The Early Years

Harold Hawtrey Camburn, the youngest of four children, was born on November 8, 1876, in Sutton in Surrey.

His father, George Hawtrey Camburn, was a Wesleyan minister, and the family moved house a number of times while Harold was growing up.

By 1901 Camburn, now aged 24, was living in Tonbridge and working for the Tunbridge Wells photographer Percy Lankester.

Lankester’s photographic interests lay mainly in portraiture and artistic photography, and indeed between 1891 and 1902 he regularly exhibited his work at the Royal Photographic Society.

The fact that he began producing picture postcards in 1903 may therefore have been due to the enthusiastic interest of his young employee in the new medium.

Camburn left Lankester’s firm in 1906 and set up in business on his own.

However the two men clearly remained on amicable terms, for Camburn served for a while as the distributor of Lankester’s postcards.

Then in 1909 Camburn married Mary Gillett, the daughter of a prosperous builder, who helped him with the running of his business.

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It is not known whether they had any children.

By this time Camburn had begun producing the local-view cards that were to be his main legacy.

In the years before the First World War he concentrated particularly on two locations.

One was his home town of Tunbridge Wells. The other was Worthing and the surrounding villages.

Off to War

Camburn enlisted on February 22, 1917, and became an Air Mechanic 2nd Class with the Royal Naval Air Service.

After initial training, Camburn was sent to the Chingford Royal Naval Air Station, where some 1,000 pilots were trained over the course of the First World War.

It might seem surprising, in view of his photographic expertise, that Camburn was not used as a photographer for aerial reconnaissance work; but mechanics were more in demand than photographers.

From the summer of 1917 till until early 1919 Camburn was stationed in the eastern Mediterranean – where, in his spare time, he took hundreds of photographs.

After the war Camburn donated to the Fleet Air Arm Museum a collection of over 800 photographs from the war period.

Most of these photographs were taken either on the Greek Islands or in the Dardanelles, where the paddle steamer Tuzla, formerly Worthing Belle – the boat that Camburn had photographed a couple of years before the war – had been sunk by the British Navy in 1915.

When Camburn returned to his postcard business after the war ended, he refocused his activities in a new direction, as will be explained in the second article in this series.

Camburn finally retired in 1951, at the age of 75; sold his printing equipment and stock to Tempo Laboratories; and moved to Havant in Hampshire.

He died in Portsmouth in the summer of 1956. His wife Mary survived him by 11 years.

North Lancing

Over the course of his long career Harold Camburn published many thousands of postcards of Sussex, Kent and Surrey, and – helpfully for collectors – he gave his postcards of each location a separate number-sequence.

Even small villages had their own “series”.

In the case of the Worthing area, however, almost all the outlying villages, such as Broadwater, Tarring and even Bramber, were numbered as part of the Worthing sequence, with only Angmering having its own separate sequence.

This explains the high numbers on these cards of Lancing, of which Camburn published about 20 views.

Camburn’s catalogue numbers, together with postmark information from these and other Camburn cards in my collection, make it clear that the North Lancing scenes date from 1913 and the South Lancing scenes from two or three years later.

So we are looking at Lancing as it was exactly a century ago.

Interestingly, the cottage described as “Rustic Cottage” on the postcard second from left in the top row is currently for sale through Winkworth of Worthing, and can be snapped up by any reader of the Herald & Gazette with £625,000 burning a hole in his pocket.

The cottage, which is located in Mill Road, is known today as the Old Cottage.

Winkworth’s particulars tell us that the cottage dates from the early 1400s, and that Queen Elizabeth I once “stayed” there (more likely, rested?) while her horses were being re-shod at the local forge.

Lancing School – immediately adjacent to the Old Cottage (which can be seen again on the left of the postcard of the school) – was a forerunner of the present North Lancing Primary School.

The former school building, like the cottage, has survived the passage of time – as indeed, of course, has the church of St James the Less.

Sadly, as we shall see in a moment, this does not apply to any of the buildings in South Lancing seen at the bottom of the page – or indeed to the final view of North Lancing, since the erstwhile entrance to Lancing Manor is now a large roundabout on the A27.

The photograph was taken on Grinstead Lane, looking north.

In 1914 there was a lodge to the right of the partially visible gate, but in this photograph it is hidden behind the bushes.

The photograph gives no impression of the complexity of this junction a hundred years ago – for Manor Road went off to the left behind the group of boys, in a north-westerly direction; and Brighton Road (now Old Shoreham Road) went off to the right.

The Chorley Empire

The three large buildings in South Lancing seen at the bottom of the page were, at the time the photographs were taken around 1916, all part of the convalescent home “empire” of a philanthropist called William Chorley, founder of the North-East London Gospel Mission.

Hope Lodge, which was bought by Chorley for £425 in 1896 to house “twelve or more mothers and their babies”, was situated on the west side of South Street, near the sea-end.

Between it and the Three Horseshoes pub – now the New Sussex Hotel – was a house called Lorne Cottage, which Chorley had begun renting the previous year as a rest home for ten men.

The site of Hope Lodge is today occupied by the Meze Meze Greek restaurant and the Bell Memorial Home – the direct successor to the care homes Chorley founded in South Lancing just over a century ago.

Channel View – a house previously known as Stork’s Nest – was acquired by Chorley in 1899 to house thirty men and youths.

They wore a uniform of rough navy blue serge and were known in the village as “Chorley’s Blue Birds”.

Channel View was in Lower Brighton Road, a few yards east of the junction with South Street, just beyond where a three-storey block of flats now stands.

Four houses now occupy the front of the site. The garage of the most easterly of these is the only trace of Channel View that survives.

It served as the billiard room for Chorley’s convalescent home.

With Hope Lodge and Channel View fully functioning, Chorley turned his attention to a building that had previously been occupied by Lancing Grammar School.

This had recently been bought by a man named Wenman, who generously allowed Chorley to use it free of charge.

The new home was originally called the Maria Wenman Home of Rest, in memory of Wenman’s wife, but it later became known as the Chestnuts – apparently a humorous reference to the fact that many of the residents suffered from chest complaints.

The Chestnuts was situated at the south-east end of South Street, on the site now occupied by the group of shops with a Premier convenience store prominent on the corner.

The house on the far left of the rather prosaic postcard view of Lancing beach was originally called Redcroft, and later became the Mermaid Café.

It was recently demolished to make way for a new water sports centre and café.

Cryptic Messages

As can be seen from the board on the left of the view of the Chestnuts, by 1916 the full title of William Chorley’s organisation was “The Southern Convalescent Homes & Homes of Rest”, and it had its office in Islington.

I have an earlier postcard view of the Chestnuts, dating from around 1907, showing a more basic board, on which the text consists of (in medium size capitals) “The Southern Homes of Rest” and (in very large capitals) “Motorists Please Drive Slowly”.

In the Edwardian age the motor-car was still a fairly novel menace.

My copies of the Camburn postcards of the Chestnuts, Channel View and Lancing Beach were all sent by the same person, who scrawled brief and rather cryptic messages across both sides of the backs in pencil; and the three cards were seemingly sent to the same recipient.

The messages suggest that the sender may himself – or, more probably, herself – have been staying at Lancing for health reasons; while it appears that the recipient was a potential in-patient at the Chestnuts.

I have added punctuation to the messages as printed below. The original messages have none.

The message on the back of the card of Channel View reads: “This is the men’s home, for those who cannot help themself. Let me know if you have these safe, dear.”

The card of the Chestnuts has this: “This is the head one place, as you can see on the board. Let me know early when you want to come, as they fill up early.”

The writer herself was evidently staying at Redcroft – the house that later became the Mermaid Café – since the postcard of Lancing beach has Redcroft marked with an X, and the message on the back reads: “Our place is where I have put the X.”

The phrase “our place” has an institutional ring to it, so, while there is no evidence that Redcroft was another convalescent establishment, it may have been a boarding house where the sender of the postcards had come to recuperate.

The wind-swept location would certainly have had health-giving sea air in abundance.

• The information about the life of Harold Camburn derives mainly from an article by Edward Gilbert in the October 2012 issue of Picture Postcard Monthly, which itself drew on earlier articles by Roy Lewis and John Robards in the November 1992 and August 2000 issues.

The information about William Chorley’s convalescent homes comes from the page about the history of the Bell Memorial Home on the www.northlancing.org website.

I am grateful to Marilyn Forder of North Lancing Primary School for pointing me in several useful directions.

My greatest debt, however, is to Anne Powell of Lancing & Sompting Pastfinders, who took infinite time and trouble identifying for me where the old buildings in South Lancing had been located and explaining the layout of the junction by the entrance to Lancing Manor.

Anne also kindly read through the first draft of this article and pointed out a couple of errors.